It’s no secret that smoking damages your lungs. It can take years to get them back to the same health as that of a non-smoker again, and for some, the damage is permanent.¹ Fortunately, once you decide to quit, there are many things you can do to support your lungs in their healing process.
Do lungs heal when you quit smoking?
Decades of smoking can result in serious illnesses developing, causing permanent damage. However, damaged lungs as a result of smoking alone can heal, so there’s hope yet.¹
Your lungs are self-cleaning, but unfortunately, they can’t clean themselves very well when they are constantly being exposed to pollutants. When you quit smoking, your lungs will finally have the chance to start their healing process.²
Unfortunately, the longer you smoke, the longer it might take to notice them improving. Therefore, if you want your lungs to be able to be healthy again, then it’s best to quit as soon as possible. If you are struggling to quit successfully on your own, you might even want to consider getting support, be it from nicotine therapy or from your friends and family.
Why do lungs hurt when you quit smoking?
Because everyone’s journey is different, when you first quit you might actually find that your chest hurts and your cough seems worse. Don’t worry, this is actually a good sign that your lungs are working hard to clear out all the toxic debris left behind from smoking.
When you smoke, mucus builds up in your lungs to catch and rid your lungs of the harmful things you’re inhaling. This can leave a person’s chest feeling tight, congested and heavy. When you stop smoking, you might notice this feeling more as the mucus starts to expel toxins.⁷
How to increase your lung capacity
Your lung capacity is how much air your lungs can hold in total. Smoking causes this capacity to decrease, meaning you might feel out of breath as a result. In addition, when you smoke, your oxygen levels are lowered and your cells can’t function properly.³
When the cells in your lungs are fed the correct amount of oxygen, they will be able to heal and become stronger Luckily, you can take actions to help speed up the clearing process, add more oxygen to your lungs and help to ease general lung discomfort. Two important ways to do this include physical exercise and breathing techniques.³
Physical exercise forces our muscles to work harder than they usually would. When they work harder, our heart rate increases and so does our breathing, introducing more oxygen into our lungs. This oxygen increase helps our cells to stay healthy so they can expel toxins and smoke debris more effectively.⁴ Furthermore, much like your other muscles, working your lung muscles will make them stronger. Exercise also releases stress-fighting endorphins. When your body is stressed, so is your immune system, meaning it will heal slower, too.
Controlled breathing exercises, like diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing) and swimming, encourage oxygen flow by controlling and slowing down your breathing. This allows your airways to remain open for longer, making it easier for your lungs to work.⁵
Moreover, your diaphragm is a muscle beneath your lungs that helps you to breathe. When you inhale, your diaphragm moves downwards, adding to your lung’s space to expand. Therefore, strengthening this muscle will allow you to take deeper breaths and increase your lung capacity.⁵
Once you’ve quit smoking, your lungs will become stronger and stronger every day, even with no additional help at all. What’s most important is that you quit, allowing them the chance at better health in the first place.¹