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Cold and Flu Center

What Are the Causes of Smoker's Cough?

author image Gianna Rose
Gianna Rose is a registered nurse certified in hospice and palliative care, as well as a certified wellness coach. She completed Duke Integrative Medicine's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course in 2009. Rose also holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
What Are the Causes of Smoker's Cough?
A woman smoking and coughing. Photo Credit Ljupco/iStock/Getty Images


Smokers often have a "smoker's cough" caused by damage to the lungs from their habit. Smoking is a strong irritant to the lungs. Cigarette smoke contains approximately 4000 different chemicals. It also contains tar and radioactive materials. A smoker's cough may indicate several different disorders that result from smoking.

Damage to Cilia

Normal lungs are lined with cilia, which are hairlike projections that sweep mucus and irritants up and out of the lungs. Cilia protect the lungs from infection and irritation. Cigarette smoke contains toxins and particles that damage cilia, preventing normal function. Smokers commonly develop a morning cough as some cilia regain function during sleep and attempt to remove mucus and particles that accumulated the day before. After prolonged smoking, cilia may become permanently damaged, increasing the risk of irritation and infection.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a serious, ongoing lung disease most frequently caused by smoking. It is characterized by swelling of the airways and increased production of mucus. The airways narrow and become blocked by the swelling and mucus, causing such symptoms as shortness of breath and a productive cough. As chronic bronchitis progresses, signs and symptoms worsen. These include shortness of breath, which limits activity; nails and lips turning dusky and blue, signifying a lack of oxygen; and development of a wheeze. Treatment includes managing symptoms with bronchodilators and steroids to reduce inflammation. Quitting smoking is the most important way to stop the progression of this disease.

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Lung Cancer

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in men and women. Smoking is the most frequent cause of lung cancer. Cough is one of the most common signs of lung cancer, affecting 47 to 86 percent of people with this disease, according to an article published in 2013 by "Cough." Some causes of this cough include tumor obstruction, fluid in the lungs, infection, lung collapse or less commonly, cough may occur as a side-effect of chemotherapy.

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