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Expert Q&A

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Why do I still cough two months after quitting smoking?

Asked by Mark Brushwood, Roanoke, Virginia

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I quit smoking two months ago with the help of Chantix. However, I seem to cough more now than than when I was smoking. Is this normal for people who have smoked for 20 years? I feel much better overall, but I am a little concerned that maybe emphysema might be setting in.

Expert Bio Picture

Conditions Expert Dr. Otis Brawley Chief Medical Officer,
American Cancer Society

Expert answer

Dear Mark:

Congratulations on quitting smoking. I realize how difficult it is and respect the commitment it takes to stay off cigarettes. Remember, one out of three lifelong smokers will die of a smoking-related disease. These include cardiovascular disease, pulmonary diseases and numerous cancers. There are many advantages of stopping smoking.

Within hours of quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.

12 hours after quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

Two weeks to three months after quitting: Your circulation improves, and your lung function increases.

One to nine months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.

One year after quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.

Five years after quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker five to 15 years after quitting.

10 years after quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker's. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas decreases.

15 years after quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker.

If you have a chronic cough, meaning it lasts more than a week, you should be seen by a physician. After an examination and history, he or she may elect to do a chest X-ray or even a CT of the chest. In most cases, these test results will be normal, and the cough will just wear off.

Chantix is one of several drugs that are useful for those wanting to stop smoking. Most take it for three months. I do not know if you are still taking it. If you are, it could be the cause of the cough. Deep in the list of side effects, a small number (less than one in 100) of people report asthma-like symptoms and cough as a side effect.

Nicotine gum and nicotine patches are also useful for many who want to stop smoking. For more information on smoking cessation strategies, you can call the American Cancer Society at 800-ACS-2345.

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