For smokers, it’s noticeable that they breathe harder when walking a bit faster or going through two or three flights of stairs without any rest.
With poor blood oxygenation and constricted blood vessels, the lungs struggle with intense physical activities, causing frequent shortness of breath that fades in a few minutes of rest.
If you’ve recently just stopped smoking, breathing might be a struggle during your treks to the upper or lower floors of your office.
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In today’s post, we’ll take a closer look at why you have shortness of breath after quitting smoking, why it happens, and when you should see a doctor about it.
Increased Lung Sensitivity
Our respiratory system is a remarkable organ that has a built-in filter made of hair-like structures called cilia. These hairs don’t just clear out any dust and dirt the nostrils failed to capture, they can also clear mucus and irritants in the air we breathe in decent amounts.
However, smokers have severely damaged cilia because these hairs were exposed far too long to cigarette smoke. When you stop smoking, they start healing and multiplying their numbers in a few weeks.
As they increase their numbers, your lungs become much more sensitive as the cilia start ‘relearning’ how to filter out allergens and pollutants, which explains why ex-smokers feel breathless in their first few months of quitting.
In addition to a very sensitive set of lungs during the first few months, an ex-smoker may have difficulty breathing due to nicotine withdrawal.
The body’s huge craving for nicotine after its sudden departure can trigger anxiety and stress, which are primary contributors to hyperventilation and shallow breathing.
Smoking has also made your bronchial tubes much more relaxed after consuming cigarettes for too long. Nicotine is a relaxant that dilates the bronchial tubes, so without it, your lungs get constricted for the first few months, causing your shortness of breath.
Bronchial constriction relaxes once again after a few months after your body relearns how to do so without nicotine.
Mucous and Toxin Cleanup
If you’ve been smoking for a long time, you’ll notice that you frequently cough up phlegm because of the smoke’s irritants.
When you stop, the mucous production will take some time to slow down before they subside to pre-smoking levels. The increased mucous volume can block various airways, which can also cause your shortness of breath during daily activities.
Furthermore, your lungs will involuntarily move to clear excess mucous containing toxins from your lungs, which might cause shortness of breath even when you’re not doing anything.
People with pre-existing conditions could have shortness of breath after they stop smoking. For instance, if you were diagnosed with COPD, you can expect to have shortness of breath even after smoking.
Once you recover from COPD after quitting smoking, your breathing may take a few more weeks to return to normal. The same can be said for people with asthma, bronchitis, or pneumonia prior to stopping smoking.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Shortness of breathing might be common after kicking out ciggies from your life, but if it’s accompanied by other more serious symptoms, it requires a doctor’s attention.
Some signs that your shortness of breath may be abnormal are the following:
- Chest pain
- Rapid or arrhythmic heartbeats
- You’re coughing blood
- Lasts longer than a month
How to Improve Your Breathing After Quitting
It takes only a few weeks to a month to return your breathing to normal levels, but you can do some activities to help your body learn how to breathe better and even reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Here are some tips to get your lungs back into shape
Exercise: Regular physical activity, such as brisk walking or swimming, can strengthen the respiratory muscles and improve lung capacity. It might take some time to improve your performance, but concentrate on your breathing before anything else.
Breathing Techniques: Learning and practising deep breathing exercises can aid in managing breathlessness. Meditation and mindfulness are helpful in your quit journey and are great for analysing your breathing and observing how it improves over time.
Stay Hydrated: Drinking an adequate amount of water can help thin out mucous and keep the airways moist, helping ease breathing difficulties. Lungs with adequate hydration can clear out mucous and toxins faster, improving your breathing quickly.
Avoid Smoke: Wear a mask that protects you from particulates and smoke to minimise your exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, allergens, and other irritants and agitating chemicals that can cause shortness of breath and further damage to your lungs.
Shortness of breath, while a normal occurrence when you start quitting smoking, should go away within a few weeks after. You can do the activities mentioned above to improve your breathing, but be sure to pay attention to any abnormal breathing symptoms that require the attention of a doctor.
You’re probably reading this because you have some shortness of breath a few days after you’ve stopped smoking. We hope you found this information useful. If you need more help stopping smoking, you’re in the right place.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to bulk-billing Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good, including using responsible vaping products where appropriate.
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