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Coughing more after quitting smoking: Whats the deal?

I quit smoking a few weeks ago and now I'm coughing a lot. That didn't happen when I was smoking. What's going on?

Updated: 2023-02-23

Answer Section

Coughing more than usual may be a sign your body is starting to heal.

Tobacco smoke paralyzes and destroys some of the tiny hair-like structures in the airways called cilia. As a result, the cilia that remain have trouble sweeping mucus out of the lungs.

When you stop smoking, the cilia regrow and become active again.

As they recover and help move the mucus out of your lungs, you might cough more than usual. This might last for a few weeks or up to a year. But the cough often goes away on its own.

If your cough lasts longer than a month, you may want to check with your health care provider. You may need tests to find out if a medical problem is the cause.

In the meantime, you can do some things to try to feel better:

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids that don't have caffeine, such as juice, to help loosen congestion.
  • You also could try a medicine called guaifenesin (Mucinex) to help clear up chest congestion. You can buy it off the shelf at drugstores.
  • Suck hard candy or cough drops to soothe your throat and possibly help tame your cough. It also might help to take up to 2 teaspoons of honey before bed.
  • Take a steamy shower or use a humidifier to soothe a sore throat.

Some people may notice that starting to smoke again reduces the cough. But this will make your health worse in the long run. Ask your provider to help you stay off cigarettes for good.

Coughing can be uncomfortable, tiring and disruptive to those around you. Get a checkup if your efforts don't bring you relief. Talk to your provider as soon as you can if:

  • You're in pain.
  • You see any blood in what you cough up.
  • Coughing keeps you up when you try to sleep.