The ‘high’ you get from inhaling cigarette smoke is one of the main reasons many smokers find it enjoyable. The immediate hit of nicotine immediately boosts your dopamine levels, giving you a minor feeling of elation, but this quickly passes.
What doesn’t go away quickly are the dangers of chemicals in cigarette smoke and the ensuing headaches you may feel afterwards. Some smokers have reported feeling major headaches and migraines throughout their day, oftentimes after finishing a ciggie.
Why do smoking and headaches go hand in hand? Why do you sometimes feel dizzy and not your usual self after a stick? Let’s find out more in today’s post.
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Chemical Components of Cigarettes
It’s not news that cigarettes are dangerous. Smoking is one of the primary causes of major health burdens and preventable diseases. Whenever you inhale cigarette smoke, you’re ingesting the following:
Carbon Monoxide: A colourless and odourless gas that binds to haemoglobin more strongly than oxygen and reduces the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity. When you inhale this chemical, you decrease the oxygen supply to vital organs and increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.
Cadmium: Cadmium is a heavy metal present in cigarette smoke. Known for its toxic effects, inhaling cadmium increases the risk of lung and prostate cancers, kidney damage, and respiratory issues.
Particulate Matter: Cigarette smoke contains fine particulate matter (PM) that can penetrate deep into the respiratory system. Inhaling PM while having a ciggie increases the risk of respiratory problems, exacerbates asthma, and increases the risk of long-term diseases.
Aldehydes: These are a family of dangerous substances, which include formaldehyde and acrolein. When inhaled, these can irritate your lungs and damage your respiratory tract.
Nicotine and its Effects on Blood Vessels
The addictive chemical in cigarettes is nicotine. While relatively harmless itself, it’s the key that draws back smokers and even long-time quitters to smoking.
High levels of nicotine can raise blood pressure through vasoconstriction – the tightening of your blood passages – which leads to elevated blood pressure. The reduced flow of oxygen-rich blood to vital organs increases the risk of cardiovascular problems later on.
Carbon monoxide, a much more dangerous chemical found in cigarette smoke, may further increase blood vessel constriction by strongly binding to the haemoglobin responsible for carrying oxygen everywhere, especially your brain.
The intensified strain on the cardiovascular system by nicotine and carbon monoxide can cause migraines and headaches in most smokers, even with just one single hit.
Vasoconstriction and Inflammatory Response
As mentioned, the constricted blood flow will trigger migraines due to reduced blood flow to the brain.
But aside from this, chemicals in cigarette smoke activate inflammatory responses in your body. Your airways become inflamed and reduce your oxygen intake. Combined with the other factors mentioned above, it’s a recipe for a major headache every single day.
Furthermore, if you’re smoking because you’re stressed and anxious, you aren’t doing yourself a favour. Stress and anxiety are two major contributors to causing migraines and severe headaches.
You can guess that your headache will just get worse when you smoke after a stressful day at work.
The Neurological Effects of Smoking
Smoking constricts your blood flow and oxygen supply, which can cause immense stress to your body. Unfortunately, there’s no good news for alleviating your headaches while smoking a ciggie.
Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine, the body’s natural rewards system. These neurotransmitters can be overstimulated and cause fluctuations in brain activity, another factor that causes headaches and migraines.
Even if we pretend for a while that chemicals in cigarette smoke don’t constrict your vessels and limit your air supply, the increased stimulation of neurotransmitters could be enough to make your head spin for quite a while.
Unfortunately, this effect becomes worse once you decide to quit smoking (but don’t get discouraged – it’s only temporary!).
Nicotine Withdrawal and Headache Severity
If you’ve ever tried quitting before, you’re no stranger to withdrawal symptoms. Aside from experiencing mood swings, irritability, and anxiety, the stress of dealing with wanting a ciggie is also a major contributing factor to severe headaches.
Nicotine withdrawal during smoking cessation causes major chemical adjustments in the body, especially the brain. The absence of nicotine is significantly stressful during the first few weeks of quitting.
But as mentioned, the severity of headaches during the withdrawal phase is only temporary. The headache’s intensity gradually subsides as your body adjusts through the changes of weaning off smoking.
With the help of relaxation techniques, talking to GPs for proper counsel, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), nicotine vaping products (NVPs), and keeping yourself motivated while keeping stress levels down, any motivated smoker can get through these symptoms and successfully complete their quit journey.
Impact of Passive Smoking on Headaches
If you’re a non-smoker living with someone who tends to smoke indoors or you’re regularly exposed to cigarette smoke elsewhere, you may also suffer from the symptoms of chemical inhalation.
The headaches brought on by secondhand smoke get worse the longer and more consistently you’re exposed to someone who keeps on smoking. To ensure the safety of non-smokers, children, and pets, ask them to smoke elsewhere – or better yet, to stop smoking for good.
Smoking and Headaches: Lifestyle Changes for Headache Reduction
It’s no surprise that quitting smoking and adopting healthy habits can not only reduce headaches, but will also free you from the harms of cigarette smoke. Here are ways to make your life headache-free and lighter without tobacco.
Quit Smoking Completely
One effective strategy for reducing headaches associated with smoking is quitting altogether. Smoking cessation has been linked to numerous health benefits, and headaches are often among the symptoms that improve after quitting.
As mentioned, seeking support from healthcare professionals, support groups, or using smoking cessation aids can enhance the chances of successfully quitting.
Healthier Lifestyle Choices
In addition to quitting smoking, adopting a healthier lifestyle can further contribute to headache reduction.
- Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and proper hydration play crucial roles in maintaining overall well-being.
- Exercise promotes circulation and releases endorphins, which can act as natural painkillers.
- A well-balanced diet ensures that the body receives essential nutrients, and proper hydration helps in maintaining optimal blood flow.
Keep Yourself Calm and Relaxed
Stress management has immediate headache-reducing effects. Stress-relief methods such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in hobbies can help break the cycle of smoking-induced headaches.
Aside from relieving stress, these activities also regulate your dopamine levels, giving you better focus and energy levels and takes your mind off of ciggies, especially during your withdrawal phase.
Smoking and headaches are indeed connected, but fortunately, it’s possible to rid yourself of headaches once and for all – by quitting smoking for good. Smoking does not help you relax and can only worsen your headaches unless you quit the habit.
We know it’s a hard path ahead, but with the right support and knowledge, you can make it, just like the millions of motivated smokers who have successfully quit before you.
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 friendly Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.