The Lung of a Smoker: What Changes?

It’s now common knowledge that smoking harms your lungs in major ways. The CDC says that every year, smoking-related diseases cause mortalities in more than 480,000 Americans, and smoking is to blame for almost 90% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. 

Smoking (and secondhand smoke) is the primary cause behind lung cancer, which is the most widespread cancer in both men and women (excluding skin cancer). Approximately 13% of all new cases of cancer in the United States are lung cancers, and the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 228,000 cases of the disease diagnosed this year alone. Unfortunately, lung cancer is also the leading cause of cancer-related mortalities: each year, more individuals lose their lives to the disease than prostate, colon, and breast cancers combined. Lung cancer is often asymptomatic in its early stages, presenting once it has reached an advanced stage. However, once it has spread, it can present various symptoms, such as:

  • Headache
  • Bone pain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • A new, persistent cough
  • Coughing up blood, even in small amounts
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness of voice

According to Hopkins Medicine, secondhand smoke causes over 7,000 lung cancer deaths every year in non-smokers; it may also lead to heart disease and other lung conditions. Symptoms related to exposure to secondhand smoke could include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Coughing
  • Extra mucus in your airways
  • Eye, nose, and throat irritation

Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, as well as ear infections.

Smoking can also cause COPD, which includes:

  • Emphysema. This disease affects the alveoli–air sacs–in our lungs. Symptoms include coughing, fatigue, shortness of breath, weight loss, depression, and heart/sleep issues.
  • Chronic bronchitis. This condition is characterized by a chronic inflammation of the bronchi (our large airways). Symptoms include coughing up mucus over a long period of time.

Smoking doesn’t just severely damage your lungs. It can also increase your risk of other conditions such as stroke, oral cancer, and heart disease. 

While quitting smoking is often very difficult, there are resources available to help you do so. You may also be interested in trying an over-the-counter or prescription medication; you should discuss your best options with your doctor.

If your Ezra physician deems you at a higher risk of developing lung cancer, they may include a low dose CT of your lungs at no additional cost to screen your lungs. If you’d like to learn more about our screening options, you may do so here.