Your FAQs Answered: Does COPD Progress After Quitting Smoking?
February 28, 2024

Your FAQs Answered: Does COPD Progress After Quitting Smoking?

Quitting smoking can help preserve your current lung function. It may also alter the course of your chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) progression and reduce some symptoms.

Cutting down or quitting smoking is the most important thing you 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 your breathing, reduce coughing and chest tightness, and reduce inflammation.

Quitting smoking can actually alter the progression of COPD. Becoming smoke-free can also help manage or prevent other diseases. These include heart disease and lung cancer.

Quitting smoking can be difficult, especially 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 you’re ready to try quitting, make sure you have the right plan and support in place. A combination of medication and psychological support works best for many people.

Will shortness of breath go away after quitting smoking? 

COPD makes it difficult to empty your lungs of air when you exhale. Air gets trapped in the lungs, so there is less space for new air and oxygen.

If you quit smoking, you may start to see improvement in your shortness of breath within days to weeks. It may take longer for some people. Quitting smoking can prevent your shortness of breath from getting worse.

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 your lungs, but that doesn’t mean that you’re ready and able to quit.

If you continue to smoke, your 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 you’re still smoking.

What can you do to help regulate your breathing when you have COPD?

Make sure to take medications exactly as directed for the greatest benefit. Treatments can include:

  • Inhalers: Different types of medications 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 you have trouble using an inhaler.
  • Supplemental oxygen: With reduced lung capacity, getting enough oxygen from the air can be difficult. Using supplemental oxygen helps increase the amount of oxygen you take 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 your annual flu shot, wash your hands, and avoid being around sick people to reduce your risk.
  • Breathe deeply: COPD can make it hard to catch your breath. Practicing deep breathing can help you better regulate your breathing. Breathe in slowly through your nose. Breathe out even more slowly through your mouth, using pursed lips.
  • Monitor your health: Make sure to let your healthcare team know if there are changes in your symptoms or any part of your health.

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

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

Will breathing ever return to normal after quitting smoking with COPD?

If there has already been damage to your lungs, it usually can’t be reversed.

Quitting smoking can help you to maintain the lung function you still have and prevent further damage. Continuing to smoke would cause your lung function to keep declining.

Quitting also prevents COPD flares and reduces the risk of mortality. People with COPD may notice their cough and breathing improve within days to weeks.

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.

What’s the easiest way to quit smoking?

Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and smoking cessation medications can help prevent withdrawal symptoms and manage cravings. NRT and cessation medications can be used concurrently.

NRT delivers the nicotine your body is craving through a gum, patch, or inhaler — methods that are less harmful than smoking or vaping nicotine and tobacco products. Gradually decreasing the amount of nicotine present and frequency of use is key.

Prescription medications such as Chantix or Zyban alter the chemicals in your brain to help soothe cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Counseling and peer support may also be beneficial.

The bottom line

Quitting smoking is the best way to prevent COPD 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 tools to help you quit. Talk with a healthcare professional to devise a plan once you are ready.


Written By: Carly Werner

Edited By: Tess Catlett

Medically Reviewed By: Adithya Cattamanchi, MD

Copy Edited By: Nastassja Myer