Question: I quit smoking 6 six years ago (after smoking for 13 years), but now have a cough that won't go away. Is tobacco to blame?
Dr. Hibberd's answer:
A new and persistent cough, lasting more than 10 days, should be evaluated. Whether this is related to your smoking can only be determined by an evaluation by your doctor. You should schedule an appointment right away.
A cough is a protective reflex. So, unless you have an infection or are having a drug side effect, your persistent cough suggests an obstruction of your airway by allergy, inflammation or tumor, or some deeper process within your lung tissue.
Smoking damages the superficial cell lining of your lower airway and destroys the fine hair-like cilia of your lungs. In non-smokers, cilia help remove foreign objects — dust, soot, and other particles — from the lungs. Quitting tobacco can stimulate a cough for a period of time, as your lower airway cells recover their protective abilities. But the protective cilia do not regenerate, leaving pooled secretions that are only cleared by coughing.
Tobacco contains many cancer-causing agents and is harmful, in other ways, to our lung tissue and airways. There is a very well defined increased risk of lung cancer and lung disease in smokers that persists for many years after stopping smoking. I would consider any new cough in a former smoker likely to be related to tobacco.
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