Everyone knows that smoking is one habit that can be the source of serious health problems for its users. Smoking is heavily associated with lung cancer, but there are dozens and dozens of other effects and consequences. Any long-time, habitual smoker is all but guaranteed to run into at least a few of these downsides. Thankfully, many have worked hard and found victory over the addiction, but what does habitually smoking mean for our anatomy now and in the future? What is happening in the lungs, blood, brain and cells before and after tamping out the final cigarette? Learn more by reading on.
What Happens When You Smoke
When a cigarette is lit, the first thing that happens is a light mist of smoke will rise in front of the face and eyes. This may cause the eyes to water or nose to run or tingle. This is due to the tiny hairs in the windpipe (medically known as “cilia”) immediately reacting and going to work trying to clean the nasal passages, bronchial tubes and lungs of foreign matter. If the eyes tear up, this is also a defensive reaction to purge the eyes of impurities and irritants.
Cigarette smoke has been shown to contain over 7,000 chemical compounds and 70 compounds that have been confirmed to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing); our bodies are simply not made to ingest and process cigarette smoke. Within a few puffs of smoke, the majority of the cilia have been paralyzed or even killed and are no longer useful. When a smoker wakes up coughing, it is because those cilia are fighting as hard as they can to do their job and need additional backup assistance. Once the smoker has the next cigarette, the cilia are paralyzed once again, so the coughing subsides, creating a false sense of temporary solace for the smoker.
Cigarette smoke also begins to damage the cells on the exterior of the lungs. Over less time than you might think, and with cigarette after cigarette, these cells continue to be impacted by greater damage that it can no longer fight. Most of what is inhaled turns into tar in the lungs, which clings to those dead cells. This is largely how a smoker’s lungs can become so blackened. Unfortunately, what you have heard about low-tar cigarettes is just a myth. Manufacturers only perforate very tiny holes into the filter to reduce the amount of tar inhaled. Bear in mind, some of that tar may go straight into the nasal passages regardless.
Effects on the rest of the body
From the lungs, smoke and its compounds are absorbed into the bloodstream. There, they are distributed to the veins and arteries, heart, limbs and brain. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke permeate every cell within us. This naturally goes on to affect breathing, vision and hearing, dental health, circulation, bone health, hormones and fertility in both men and women. These chemicals can significantly increase the risk of developing tuberculosis, impotence, diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking also increases your chance of getting cancer of the cervix, bladder, colon, liver and, of course, the lung. Find out what your potential risk of developing lung cancer is with our CancerAware Risk Assessment.
What Happens When You Quit
When we give our body what it needs, it is a powerful healing machine. Giving up smoking is a challenging goal, but from the perspective of the anatomy, it’s an almost instant breath of fresh air. The smoker’s body feels some relief in only 20 minutes after the final cigarette! Talk about instant gratification! And it only gets better from there. Though the smoker can feel the brain coping with the impact of withdrawal, what he or she can’t feel is that circulation has begun improving in just a couple hours. Carbon monoxide levels return to normal after just 12 hours. After three days, risk of heart attack has decreased remarkably, and nicotine has left the system. With more time, likelihood of heart disease and cancers have dropped substantially and eventually, plummet as though you had never smoked. The later in life you started smoking, the better, and the sooner in life you quit, the better off you are today and tomorrow.
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Nicotine has been shown to be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and even alcohol for many people - kicking the dependency is clearly no easy target. If you are a former smoker and have stopped, or even cut back on your usage, congratulations! Whether it was 10 years or two days ago, your decision to lessen or stop your smoking is an incredibly healthy choice for your body and mind. What an exciting commitment to make and sustain! Enjoy the fresh air!