Since the question of cilia and coughing and lung damage comes up often I figured I would try to show some illustrations as to what happens in the lungs from smoking. In this string I am going to concentrate at the microscopic level, in the lining tissue of the bronchus.
On the top we see the cilia, labeled (H). They are attached to columnar cells, labeled (I). The cilia sweep the mucous produced in the goblet cells, labeled (J) as well as mucous coming from deeper glands within the lungs and the particulate matter trapped in the mucous. The bottom layer of cells, labeled (L) are the basal cells.
The above picture is representative of a healthy non-smokers lung. Below we start to see the changes that occur as people begin to smoke. You will see that the columnar cells are starting to be crowded out and displaced by additional layers of basal cells. Not only are fewer cilia present but the ones that are still functioning are doing so at a much lower level of efficiency. Many chemicals in tobacco smoke are toxic to cilia, first slowing them down, soon paralyzing them all together and then destroying them.
As you see with the cilia actions being diminished, mucous starts to build up in the small airways making it harder for the smoker to breath and causing the characteristic smokers cough in order to clear out the airways.
Eventually though, the ciliated columnar cells are totally displaced. As can be seen below ominous changes have taken place. Not only is the smoker more prone to infection from the loss of the cleansing mechanism of the cilia, but these abnormal cells (O) are cancerous squamous cells. These cells will eventually break through the basement membrane wall and invade into underlying lung tissue and often spread throughout the body long before the person even knows they have the disease.
If a smoker quits before cancer actually starts, even if the cells are in a precancerous state, the process is highly reversible. Cilia regeneration starts in about 3 days once smoking stops. Even if cilia has been destroyed and not present for years, the lining tissue of the windpipe will start to repair. Even the precancerous cells will be sloughed off over time, reversing the cellular process to the point where the lining tissue goes back to normal. But if a smoker waits too long and cancer starts, it may be too late to save his or her life.
You just don't know which cigarette was going to be the one to start an irreversible process. To reduce your risk you must stop the deposit of the thousands of chemicals, especially the 43 known carcinogens that come in with every puff of a cigarette you take. To stop this process thus reducing your risk cancer, as well as helping to keep your lungs clean of other irritants by allowing the healing of the cilia, you must always remember and practice the simple treatment of knowing to never take another puff!
General warning about getting colds or flu after quitting
All recent quitters need to be aware of two things thta can happen when getting cold or flu near the time that they quit smoking. First, a cold may be more annoying than normal. If anyone gets a cold within a few months of a quit, it is often a really uncomfortable one. The reason being not only are you producing excessive mucous from the infection itself, but since your Cilia
are still in the process of cleaning out of the built up mucous that has been accumulated over the years and decades that never had a chance of coming out before, the amount of congestion and the symptoms can really make a person miserable.
Also, with nerve cells that have now regenerated throughout your whole respiratory tract functioning normally, you can feel pain and irritation that were dulled when you were a smoker. It may have taken you a little longer as a smoker to even know when you were getting sick. With impaired nerve cells you may not have felt earlier symptoms, or if you did you may not have been able to differentiate what was just an effect of smoking too much or of actually having some sort of infection. With nerve cells back in place you are likely not going to be overly tempted to smoke for the concept of pouring hot irritating smoke on an already irritated throat is generally not a pleasant thought.
Where you do have to be careful and aware is that when your cold starts to dissipate, you might get stronger than normal thoughts for cigarettes. For while you likely cut back on cigarette consumption when you were a smoker with a cold, when you started to get better you would have to make up for lost time, or more accurately, for lower than normal nicotine levels since you had instinctively cut cigarettes down to a bare minimum in those times. This makes the first time getting well a potentially powerful trigger. Just be aware of the fact and it will help you to minimize the effect. Then know that over your lifetime, your colds will probably be less frequent, resolve quicker and be less severe as long as you always remember to never take another puff!
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