Smoking and Throat Disorders - A Guide to Stop Smoking

Most people who smoke tend to think of smoking causing heart or lung problems and don’t stop to think about the damage it can also do to the throat.

Smoking irritates the throat, causing it to become dry, red and inflamed. It is also responsible for the development of polyps – small growths on the vocal cords which alter the tone and pitch of the voice. This is serious in itself but even more so if you are a singer or have an occupation which involves using your voice.

And, on a more serious level, it can lead to oral cancer.

It doesn’t matter whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, and a pipe or chew tobacco; all of these are harmful and will damage your throat although in varying degrees. The level of damage depends upon the amount of nicotine, tar and other chemicals present in the brand you are smoking.

One of the main side effects of smoking is coughing: you are probably familiar with the term ‘smoker’s cough’ and this is exactly what it means. Cigarette smoke irritates the lining of the throat and airways to the lungs which causes you to cough. It also dries the throat out which makes it difficult to swallow.

And the heat generated from these products burns the throat thereby damaging it further.

Another issue is the effect of smoking on your voice. Smoking irritates the tissues of the larynx (voicebox), causing them to become sore and inflamed. This leads to the condition laryngitis which reduces the sound of the voice to a hoarse ‘croak’ or a loss of voice altogether.

It can also thicken the tissues of the larynx which can dramatically affect the sound of the voice. Some people may think that having a husky voice, caused by smoking, is sexy but it is bad for your voice in the long term and your overall health.

Oral and throat cancer

The worst aspect of this is cancer. Smoking causes a wide range of cancers which include many areas of the body including the mouth. These oral cancers are as follows:

  • Throat
  • Pharynx
  • Larynx
  • Oesophagus
  • Tongue
  • Sinus

Throat and oral cancer can be caused by many things but by far the biggest factor is smoking. And this is even worse when combined with alcohol. Many smokers enjoy a smoke when having a drink and tend to find that they smoke more when they do so, especially in the company of others.

But the combination of the two further increases the risk of throat or oral cancer.

Basically, it’s the chemicals present in cigarette smoke which contain known carcinogens that are responsible for causing these types of cancer.

If you want to know more about this visit our Smoking and Cancer section.

Most cancers are treatable if spotted early on but one problem with throat and mouth cancer is the difficulty in spotting symptoms at an early stage. These symptoms include:

  • Difficulty and pain in the throat when swallowing
  • Lump in the throat
  • Hoarse ‘croaky’ voice
  • Difficulty with breathing
  • Lump in the neck
  • Constant sore throat
  • Earache

If the cancer spreads beyond the larynx then other areas may be affects, for example the lymph glands in the neck.

If the cancer is spotted at a very early stage then a full recovery can be made but it takes a long time. Surgery will be required to remove the site of the cancer which will result in noticeable scarring around the neck. The voice may also be affected which would force the person to learn how to eat and speak again.

It’s not just smokers at risk: if you inhale second hand smoke or work in a smoky/polluted environment then you too are at risk. You can also inhale the toxins present in cigarette smoke which cause a whole range of health problems including cancer.

The best course of action is to stop smoking. We are not saying that it is easy to do so but any short term pain will be more than compensated by long term gain.

If you want to quit smoking but don’t know where to start then visit our section on Stopping Smoking. This contains plenty of useful advice on where to get help on smoking cessation, hints and tips and treatment available.

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