Does COPD Progress After Quitting Smoking?
August 20, 2021

Does COPD Progress After Quitting Smoking?

If your patients have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may be thinking about having them quit smoking a little more seriously. There are proven benefits to quitting smoking. It can help improve symptoms and slow the progression of COPD.

After hours, days, months, and years of quitting, there are benefits for the lungs and body.

Does giving up smoking help COPD? 

Cutting down or quitting smoking is the most important thing anyone can do to change the course of COPD.

COPD is a progressive disease. At any stage of COPD, quitting smoking can prevent further decline in lung function. It can improve breathing, reduce coughing and chest tightness, and bring down inflammation.

Quitting smoking can alter the progression of COPD.

Quitting smoking is a huge challenge. It can be especially difficult for someone with COPD. Studies show people with COPD have a greater dependence on nicotine.

There’s also a higher rate of depression in people with COPD. The process of quitting smoking can increase depressive symptoms.

If your patients are ready to try quitting, make sure you have the right plan and support in place for them. A combination of ongoing testing, medication and psychological support works best for many people.

Becoming smoke-free can also help manage or prevent other diseases. These include heart disease and lung cancer.

Will shortness of breath go away after quitting smoking? 

If your patients quit smoking, they may start to see improvement in their shortness of breath by 6 months. It may take longer for some people. Quitting smoking can prevent  shortness of breath from getting worse of course!

COPD makes it difficult to empty lungs of air when exhaling. Air gets trapped in the lungs so there is less space to bring in new air and oxygen.

Quitting smoking can improve shortness of breath. Practicing deep breathing can also help. Deep breathing helps to strengthen the muscles that control breathing. Breathing out through pursed lips helps to exhale more fully and push out more air from the lungs.

What happens if you have COPD and still smoke? 

Each person will have a different experience with COPD. It’s known that smoking is not good for the lungs, but that doesn’t mean that the patient is ready and able to quit.

If your patients continue to smoke, their COPD will progress more quickly compared to someone who doesn’t smoke.

There are treatments to help COPD, but they won’t be as effective if they’re still smoking. Make sure to take medications exactly as directed for the greatest benefit. Treatments can include:

  • Inhalers. There are different types of medications that are given by an inhaler. They can help to open airways, making it easier to breathe.
  • Nebulizers. A nebulizer turns your medication into a fine mist. You can then breathe it in through a mask. This is helpful if your patients have trouble using an inhaler.
  • Supplemental oxygen. With reduced lung capacity, it can be hard to get enough oxygen from the air. Using supplemental oxygen helps to increase the amount of oxygen you are taking into your lungs. Keep in mind that you should never smoke around oxygen tanks.

The following strategies can also help:

  • Avoid infection. Any infection that affects the respiratory tract is harder to fight off when you have COPD. Get an annual flu shot, wash your hands, and avoid being around sick people to reduce risk.
  • Breathe deeply. COPD can make it hard to catch your breath. Practicing deep breathing can help better regulate breathing. Breathe in slowly through the nose. Breathe out even more slowly through the mouth, using pursed lips.
  • Monitor their health. Make sure to communicate with your to know if there are changes with your symptoms or any part of your health.

Keep in mind that even if your patients aren’t able to completely quit, cutting down can still be beneficial.

Research has also shown benefits even if a quit attempt isn’t successful. Any period of time when you are smoke-free can help to slow COPD progression.

How long does it take for breathing to return to normal after quitting smoking? 

If there has already been damage to their lungs, it usually can’t be reversed. Quitting smoking can help to maintain the lung function but still have to prevent further damage. Continuing to smoke would cause lung function to keep declining.

Quitting also prevents COPD flares. People with COPD may notice their cough and breathing improve within 1 to 9 months.

When people quit smoking, they experience the following bodily changes, according to the Canadian Lung Association:

  • After 8 hours of being smoke-free, carbon monoxide levels are half those of a smoker.
  • After 24 hours, carbon monoxide is totally out of your body.
  • After 48 hours, your senses of taste and smell improve.
  • After 2 or 3 months, circulation in your body is better.
  • After 1 year, your risk of having a heart attack goes down.
  • After 10 years, the risk of dying of lung cancer is half that of someone who smokes.

The takeaway 

Quitting smoking is not easy but there are many benefits. COPD is a progressive condition. Quitting smoking is the best way to prevent it from progressing. Being smoke-free can help to maintain your lung function. It also reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease.

There are a variety of supports to help quit. That’s where we can step in and help with our smoking cessation products for your practice.  Contact us as or visit our website at to order direct online!

Medically reviewed by Adithya Cattamanchi, M.D.

Authored by Carly Werner


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