Smoker’s cough: Symptoms, Causes and Cure

What causes smoker's cough?

What is a smoker’s cough?

It is a persistent cough usually lasting for more than 2 to 3 weeks that develops in chronic smokers. This is not something similar to what you experience during an upper respiratory tract infection. If you are not a heavy smoker you may develop a dry cough initially, but with time it becomes productive. A productive cough is one where you produce phlegm. A smoker’s cough produces clear, white, yellow, or green in color phlegm. The cough is usually worse in the morning and reduces as the day progresses.

Why does it happen?

Before knowing the pathology behind smoker’s cough, let’s go through what happens in a normal respiratory tract.

Our respiratory tract consists of the airways and the lungs. The airways are lined by ciliated epithelial cells. These cilia are like hair strands that face the lumen of the airways. Between these cells are special cells known as goblet cells. These goblets cells are specialized to produce mucus. When some irritant or toxin is inhaled, cilia waves off them out of the airways towards the mouth. This irritation stimulates the person to cough which helps to expel the toxins or irritant.

In chronic smokers, these cilia are damaged and paralyzed therefore they no longer has the ability to function properly. Because of this reason, toxins and other foreign matter can freely enter the lungs and deposit inside the lungs. This results in inflammation of the lung tissue which induces a cough as the body tries to get rid of these substances.

At night, your respiratory tract is not exposed to toxins from cigarette smoke thus giving time for the cilia to repair and heal themselves. As the cilia recover, they get back into action and starts removing accumulated toxins and secretions hence the reason for the aggravation of the cough in the morning.

How will the smoker’s cough affect you?

Can you imagine how it would feel to keep coughing nonstop? It sounds uncomfortable right? Yes, that is exactly how it feels like. It is not just an unpleasant sound to listen to; it is also a very uncomfortable experience. Not just that, continuous cough will also cause so much pain. Your chest may also begin to hurt due to the frequent coughing.
However, even if you get used to the cough over time, others surrounding you can get disturbed by it and this will have a negative impact on your social life. It will also change how you are perceived at work and by others.
Another negative consequence of smoker’s cough is that, it becomes very hard for you to differentiate when you actually show symptoms of a more serious disease such as cancer.

What features may suggest that your cough may be more serious?


Hemoptysis means to cough out blood. If you cough out blood even just one time, consult your health care professional for further evaluation. Hemoptysis is usually the first symptom of lung cancer.

Hoarseness of the voice

If you have been experiencing a hoarse voice for more than a few days and if it is not accompanied by other typical cold symptoms, then it is an indication for you to make a consultation with your health care professional. However, hoarseness can be a result of many other different problems, not just due to lung pathology.

Shortness of Breath

If you ever feel it’s hard to breathe or feel breathless after climbing a few steps, visit your health care professional.


Wheezing is the commonest presentation of asthma. However, not all wheezes are asthma. So, if you developed a new wheeze, check it out.

Loss of weight that is unexplainable

I know losing weight is something we all look forward to. But, a big drop in weight within a short period of time can be something very serious so have it checked out.

Smokers cough remedy

What is the treatment for smoker’s cough? Definitely, without a doubt, the treatment for smoker’s cough should be to quit smoking. It is the best treatment. Even though the cough may seem to worsen for a few weeks after quitting (Known as smoking cessation cough), it always improve with time. This is normal. The cough worsens because your lungs start to heal after all that damage and starts to eliminate the accumulated toxins out of your body.
Remember, you cough for a reason. Your body has designed this function as a means to remove foreign material that you breathed or smoked in. Therefore don’t try to improve the cough. Suppressing the cough is not always a good idea. So, speak with your health care professional before purchasing over the counter cough suppressants.

What will help to suppress the cough?

  1. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.
    The ideal amount of water to drink is approximately 8 glasses of water per day. Water will help your lungs to remove the thin secretions out of the airway.
  2. Gargle with salt water.
  3. Cough drops or lozenges for your aching throat.
  4. Have one tea spoon of honey : Studies have proven that honey is an effective natural remedy in reducing cough symptoms. You can have honey alone or mix it in a cup of warm water and drink it. What’s even better is to drink it with a cup of green tea. Green tea is found to reduce the risk of lung cancer.
  5. Keep the head end of your bed elevated when you sleep. You can prop up the head end with pillows. If you lie flat, the mucous tends to get accumulated in the throat thus making your cough worse when you wake up. Sleeping with your head elevated is very helpful as it minimizes the mucous drainage to your throat.
  6. Exercise regularly : Exercise helps to break up the pooled phlegm and allows you to get rid of it easily.
  7. Eat a healthy balanced diet : A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower will help your body to detoxify some of the chemicals you smoked in.

If you have a persistent cough and even if you believe it is a smoker’s cough, consult your health care provider. A persistent cough is one of the earliest symptoms of lung cancer. Earlier the detection and treatment, better the prognosis.

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