Updated 16 January 2017

What is ‘smoker's cough’?

Smokers cough refers to a reflex reaction from the lungs that usually occurs after stopping smoking, often in the mornings.

When you inhale tobacco smoke, the respiratory system tries to protect itself by producing mucus and coughing. Normally, the cilia (tiny hairlike structures) beat outward to sweep harmful substances out of the lungs. Smoking retards this sweeping action, so some of the toxins remain in the lungs and mucus remains in the airways. When you sleep, some cilia recover and start functioning again. On waking, you cough because your lungs are trying to get rid of the toxins from the previous day’s smoking. Eventually, after long-term exposure to tobacco smoke, the cilia stop functioning completely.

Read more:
Smokers want help when quitting


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Professor Keertan Dheda has received several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others. Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute.

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