woman holding cigarette

What Does Smoking do to Your Respiratory System?

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Imagine standing next to exhaust of an old truck that is giving off noxious fumes and breathing in the smoke for 5 minutes. Contemplate the effect this smoke will have on your nasal passage, the throat and your lungs!

Most people would dread such an experiment with health in real life. The same people would give no thought to lighting up a cigarette and subjecting their lungs to hot smoke, produced by the combustion of tobacco and other chemicals, and tar.

Eventually smoke produced by combustion of a fuel or a product like tobacco, contains carbon-mono-oxide, a deadly by-product that has the tendency to attach itself to the hemoglobin of the human blood and thus deprive the body cells of oxygen.

The bad news however is that smokers have more to worry about than just carbonmonooxide. A cigarette wrap consists of dried tobacco leaves and chemicals that help even combustion. Burning tobacco releases close to 4000 toxic chemicals, including carcinogens like hydrogen cyanide, nitrous oxides, cadmium and lead.

On top of it cigarettes contain tar. It is common knowledge that cigarette stains the teeth and skin, it’s mostly due to the sticky nature of tar. Also Benzopyene present in the tar is a known carcinogen.

In this article let’s look at the harmful effects of smoking on the respiratory system.

What does the respiratory system consist of?

Before we go into the details of how smoking affects the respiratory system, it’s important to have a basic knowledge of the components that make up this system.

A human respiratory system basically consists of the following:

  • A nasal passage
  • Pharynx (in the throat)
  • Trachea or the wind pipe
  • Bronchi
  • Alveoli (they reside in the lungs)

An inhalation causes air to move through the nasal passage, filtered by the tiny hair like cilia present along the passage, and enter the lungs through the trachea. Cilia is lined along the entire respiratory passage, to filter out the dust, chemicals and other harmful solid matter in the air.

Mucus is generated to clean up the dust accumulated in the cilia and is discarded through swallowing, spitting (via cough), sneezing or through blowing the nose.

How is smoking harmful to the respiratory system?

Cigarette smoke harms the respiratory system through two means: the smoke and the tar.

1. Throat inflammation

The hot smoke has the tendency to irritate the tender linings of the nasal and tracheal passage. It’s common for smokers to suffer from throat inflammation for this very reason.

2. Cilia clogging

The presence of 4000 harmful chemicals produced by the combustion of tobacco leads to the clogging of the hair like cilia along the nasal passage and trachea.

Such a clogging causes the cilia to lose its fluidity, it’s found that one cigarette can slow down the motion of cilia for 20 minutes.

3. Mucus congestion

When the cilia slows down, the mucus is not passed along and gets clogged up along the trachea. The common symptoms of “smoker’s cough” are produced due to excessive mucus clogging which the body tries to remove by inducing irritation along the throat causing cough.

4. Carcinogenic deposits

– Tar is highly sticky substance and it tends to gel along the nasal and tracheal passage causing damage to the cilia.

Moreover the tar sticks to the tender surface of the alveoli reducing it’s surface contact with blood vessels.

Continued accumulation of tar leads to the onset of cancer in the lungs, preceded by problems like chronic bronchitis or emphysema.

The respiratory diseases caused by smoking

What smoking does to your respiratory system is that it clogs up the cilia and creates tar linings along the lungs. The various diseases caused because of these two actions are as below

  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Asthma
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Sore throat
  • Sinusitis
  • Lung cancer

Find out about the harmful effects of smoking on lungs and the brain.

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