Smokers Cough 

People who smoke often develop a cough. This cough is caused by the body clearing out the chemicals that enter the airways and lungs through tobacco use. If the cough is persistent, lasting for more than 3 weeks, it is known as smoker's cough. While the cough may begin as a dry cough, it can eventually produce phlegm. Other symptoms include a sore throat and chest pain. Several home remedies may help manage the symptoms of smoker's cough.

Smoker's cough facts:

• The primary cause of a smoker's cough is smoking

• Not everybody who smokes will necessarily have a cough

• quitting smoking is the best remedy for a smoker’s cough

• It may facilitate the development of other conditions, such as bronchitis. If not all smokers have a cough then how many do?

It is not uncommon for people to report symptoms of a smoker’s cough among people who smoke. A study on adolescent military staff, discovered over 40 percent of them that smoked on a daily basis and 27 percent who sporadically smoked, experienced chronic cough coupled with phlegm production. Member’s of the experiment were aged between 18-21 but it's thought it is likely the accurate amount of smokers who have a smoker's cough surpasses this figure as smoker's cough is more apparent in those who have smoked for a long period of time.

Smoker’s cough symptoms

In the beginning developments of smoker's cough, a dry cough is often prevalent. In later stages, phlegm can be apparent as a result which can be:

• A clear white colour

• blood-tinged

• A lime like colour

• wheezing

• Pain in the chest area

• breathing creates a cracking sound

• sore throat

• breathlessness

Shortness of breath and chest pain may be symptoms that occur alongside a smoker's cough. It tends to peak in the early morning and improves steadily as the lungs gradually open up and the day progresses. Symptoms can persist and get aggressively worsen, unless the person gives up their tobacco habit. What makes a smoker’s cough different to other types of cough’s? Smoker's cough can be differentiated from other coughs by its progressive symptoms like production of phlegm, popping chest noises plus wheezing. That being said, it is not easy to differentiate the cough correlated with lung conditions, such as cancer or COPD. This potential cross-over emphasises it is vital smoker’s are checked regularly to ensure that any serious conditions are detected early.

Smoker's cough - causes

The American Cancer Society, states that of the thousands of chemicals in tobacco, a minimum of 70 are known to be cancer causing. When inhaled, the majority of these chemicals restrict the cilia’s ability to operate, as the minuscule hair-like fibres that assist in eliminating toxins from the airways. It is thought that ormaldehyde amongst other substances found in tobacco reduce the actions of the cilia and lower their size, facilitating more toxins being able to get into the lungs. The results of this process leads to inflammation.

In an attempt by the body to eliminate the chemicals via coughing, a Smoker's cough may be impair when getting up in the morning due to the cilia not being affected by smoking during sleep and thus, so were more able to collect and disperse the chemicals. Non-medical treatments and remedies? There are a few actions a smoker can take to help reduce their cough. Stop smoking An obvious one but completely quitting smoking is the best action to take. However even if this action is taken, the cough may persist or get worse after quitting before it reclines which can take up to 3 months and sometimes even longer. This is due to the body getting rid the toxins from the airways which have built up over a period of time.

Other treatments and remedies Advice can be offered to help ease the symptoms of a smoker's cough:

• keep well hydrated

• gargle honey, apple cider vinegar

• lozenges with throat syrup

• deep breathing exercises to increase lung capacity

• use steam – head over a bowl of boiling water (maybe with some added decongestant) and slowly breathe in the steam

• cardiovascular exercise

• healthy diet


Smoking can bring its fair share here of complications, many of which coming as a result of harmed cilia. The chance of developing smoking related complications reside on how heavy a smoker a person is, the harshness of their cough, and condition of general health.

Complications include:

• increased risk of bacterial and viral respiratory infections

• throat and larynx (voice box) causing changes to the voice e.g. hoarseness

• A long-term cough and irritation

Damage to the cilia can cause substance build up in the lungs and airways, which can develop into:


Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes - the channels linking the lungs to the nose and mouth. Indications are difficulty breathing, subsequently attributed to lower capacity to transport air. If bronchitis occurs for longer than 3 months, it's then termed as chronic bronchitis. An estimated 1.2 million people are living with diagnosed COPD.  

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

COPD is a progressive disease defined by abnormal and heavy breathing. The term COPD represents the conditions emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Symptoms are a cough, phlegm production, a tight sensation in the chest and wheezing, According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, COPD - which is primarily caused by smoking.


Emphysema is a brand of COPD as a direct consequence of destruction to the air sacs in the lungs known as the alveoli. As a result, the body attempts to combat the damage the airways to gain the required oxygen levels. Breathing difficulties and a severe cough are typical symptoms of this condition. Incontinence In women, smoker's cough may trigger stress urinary incontinence. (use link to internal document) Some research indicates that long term Women smokers have an increased chance of experiencing an urge to urinate than females who don’t smoke.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer is the primary cause of cancer death in UK (get UK stats) and tobacco smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 90 percent of lung cancers in the United States are linked to smoking with even occasional smoking increasing cancer risk.


Smoking cigarettes enhance sensitivity to bacterial lung infections such as pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia are a cough, coupled with a fever and breathing problems. People who have pre-existing specific health issues, may need to be hospitalised for treatment of pneumonia. Other illnesses can also be aggravated by the infection. The future for people with a smokers cough Smoker's cough will be apparent as long as the person smokes. While certain home remedies are available to help subside the symptoms, they won't cure the cough in the long-term without the person completely giving up smoking. Even after quitting, the cough may persist for several months after and get worse before it gets better.

When to visit your GP It's important to visit your GP if:

• A cough lasts for over 3 weeks. Severe and persistent coughs are one of the most common symptoms of lung cancer.

• symptoms that interfere with daily existence such as;

• sleeping problems

• pain located in the chest

• rapid and / or unexplained weight loss

• headaches

• the production of phlegm

Seek immediate medical treatment for:

• bladder incontinence (add internal link)

• the appearance of blood when coughing

• pain in and around the rib cage

• passing out or fainting after severe coughing

It's also recommended to consult your GP for information on smoking cessation (insert link) and when considering the use of cough medicines for a smoker's cough.