It’s a few days into the new year, and no doubt, those New Year’s resolutions that this would be the year to quit smoking are being put to the test. Dr Mohammed Harriss, specialist pulmonologist at Medcare Hospital Sharjah, provides some cold, hard medical facts about what smoking is doing to your body and why now is the best time to quit.
How tobacco smoke impacts the body
• Irritation of the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box)
• Reduced lung function and breathlessness due to swelling and narrowing of the lung airways and excess mucus in the lung passages
• Impairment of the lungs’ clearance system, leading to the build-up of poisonous substances, which results in lung irritation and damage
• Increased risk of lung infection and symptoms such as coughing and wheezing
• Permanent damage to the air sacs of the lungs
• Harm to nearly every organ in your body
• Smoking when you are pregnant causes harm to your unborn baby
• Children exposed to second-hand smoke in their first year of life have a greater risk of illness and sudden unexpected death in infancy
Is shisha or vaping safer than cigarettes?
Like cigarette smoking, these toxins put shisha smokers at risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases, cancers, nicotine addiction, and other health effects. Many people think vaping is less harmful than smoking, and while it’s true that e-cigarette aerosol doesn’t include all the contaminants in tobacco smoke, it still isn’t safe.
Most e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm the developing brains of teens, kids and foetuses in women who vape while pregnant. Some types expose users to even more nicotine than traditional cigarettes.
In addition to nicotine, e-cigarette vapor includes potentially harmful substances such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to a serious lung disease, cancer-causing chemicals, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead. Users breathe in these toxic contaminants, and non-users’ nearby risk second-hand exposure.
The liquid used in e-cigarettes can be dangerous, even apart from its intended use. Children and adults have been poisoned by swallowing, breathing or absorbing the liquid through their skin or eyes.
E-cigarettes have been linked to thousands of cases of serious lung injury, some resulting in death. While the exact cause is still not confirmed, the CDC recommends that people not use e-cigarettes.
Then impact of quitting
The benefits are almost instant. As soon as a person stops smoking their body begins to recover in the following ways:
In as little as 20 minutes after the last cigarette is smoked, the heart rate drops and returns to normal. Blood pressure begins to drop, and circulation may start to improve.
After 12 hours: Cigarettes contain a lot of known toxins including carbon monoxide, a gas present in cigarette smoke.
This gas can be harmful or fatal in high doses and prevents oxygen from entering the lungs and blood. When inhaled in large doses in a short time, suffocation can occur from lack of oxygen.
After just 12 hours without a cigarette, the body cleanses itself of the excess carbon monoxide from the cigarettes. The carbon monoxide level returns to normal, increasing the body’s oxygen levels.
After 1 day: Just 1 day after quitting smoking, the risk of heart attack begins to decrease.
Smoking raises the risk of developing coronary heart disease by lowering good cholesterol, which makes heart-healthy exercise harder to do. Smoking also raises blood pressure and increases blood clots, increasing the risk of stroke.
In as little as one day after quitting smoking, a person’s blood pressure begins to drop, decreasing the risk of heart disease from smoking-induced high blood pressure. In this short time, a person’s oxygen levels will have risen, making physical activity and exercise easier to do, promoting heart-healthy habits.
After 2 days: Smoking damages the nerve endings responsible for the senses of smell and taste. In as little as two days after quitting, a person may notice a heightened sense of smell and more vivid tastes as these nerves heal.
After 3 days: 3 days after quitting smoking, the nicotine levels in a person’s body are depleted. While it is healthier to have no nicotine in the body, this initial depletion can cause nicotine withdrawal. Around three days after quitting, most people will experience moodiness and irritability, severe headaches, and cravings as the body readjusts.
After 1 month: A person’s lung function begins to improve. As the lungs heal and lung capacity improves, former smokers may notice less coughing and shortness of breath. Athletic endurance increases and former smokers may notice a renewed ability for cardiovascular activities, such as running and jumping. For the next several months after quitting, circulation continues to improve.
After 9 months: Nine months after quitting, the lungs have significantly healed themselves. The delicate, hair-like structures inside the lungs known as cilia have recovered from the toll cigarette smoke took on them. These structures help push mucus out of the lungs and help fight infections.
Around this time, many former smokers notice a decrease in the frequency of lung infections because the healed cilia can do their job more easily.
After 1 year: One year after quitting smoking, a person’s risk for coronary heart disease decreases by half. This risk will continue to drop past the 1-year mark.
After 5 years: Cigarettes contain many known toxins that cause the arteries and blood vessels to narrow. These same toxins also increase the likelihood of developing blood clots. After five years without smoking, the body has healed itself enough for the arteries and blood vessels to begin to widen again. This widening means the blood is less likely to clot, lowering the risk of stroke.
The risk of stroke will continue to reduce over the next 10 years as the body heals more and more.
After 10 years: A person’s chances of developing lung cancer and dying from it are roughly cut in half compared with someone who continues to smoke. The likelihood of developing mouth, throat, or pancreatic cancer has significantly reduced.
After 15 years: The likelihood of developing coronary heart disease is the equivalent of a non-smoker. Similarly, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer has reduced to the same level as a non-smoker.
After 20 years: The risk of death from smoking-related causes, including both lung disease and cancer, drops to the level of a person who has never smoked in their life. Also, the risk of developing pancreatic cancer has reduced to that of someone who has never smoked.
Most important tests are chest X-ray and spirometry. If there is any suspicion in chest X ray, a CT scan may be required. The most basic test is spirometry, which measures the amount of air the lungs can hold. The test also measures how forcefully one can empty air from the lungs. Spirometry is used to screen for diseases that affect lung volumes.