The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke affect your delicate lung tissue, which can lead to serious health conditions over time. Quitting can help reduce your risk or lessen the severity of these conditions.

Smoking affects nearly every organ and system in your body by causing inflammation and weakening your immune system.

Your lungs are particularly vulnerable to these effects. This is because the harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, such as tar and carbon monoxide, come into direct contact with the tissues and cells of your lungs.

This can result in several lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and lung cancer.

Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) characterized by the persistent inflammation of your lungs’ airways, called bronchi.

The inflammation causes an overproduction of mucus, as well as a stiffening and narrowing of the airways. This makes it difficult for air to flow in and out of your lungs.

Research from 2016 shows a close link between chronic bronchitis and active smoking. Smoking irritates and damages the lungs, leading to inflamed and narrowed airways. Over time, this can cause permanent damage.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis may include:

  • cough (called smoker’s cough)
  • excessive mucus production
  • coughing up mucus
  • wheezing
  • chest discomfort or tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • crackling sounds while breathing

More severe effects that might appear as the condition worsens include:

  • bluish lips, fingernails, and skin because of reduced oxygen levels
  • swollen feet
  • heart failure

Treatment for chronic bronchitis aims to relieve symptoms, prevent complications, and slow the progression of the disease.

Some of the most common treatments for chronic bronchitis include:

Emphysema is another type of COPD that results in damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs. The air sacs lose their elasticity, making it hard for them to expand and contract.

This can result in difficulty breathing, particularly a reduced ability to exhale. Air becomes trapped in the lungs, resulting in wheezing, shortness of breath, and a chronic cough.

Emphysema is often caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke or other irritants. Continuing to smoke after diagnosis can make emphysema much worse by increasing inflammation and causing even further damage to the air sacs.

The symptoms of emphysema develop slowly over time and may include:

  • shortness of breath
  • persistent coughing
  • excessive mucus
  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • weight loss due to decreased appetite and difficulty eating
  • fatigue and weakness
  • blue tinge to the lips or fingernail beds (a sign of low oxygen levels in the blood)

Treatment for emphysema focuses on slowing down deterioration and maximizing the function of your lungs.

Treatment options for emphysema may include:

  • inhaled corticosteroids
  • bronchodilators
  • oxygen therapy
  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • lung volume reduction surgery to remove a portion of diseased lung tissue
  • bronchoscopic lung volume reduction to decrease the amount of “trapped” air in your lungs

If these treatments don’t work, a healthcare professional might recommend a lung transplant.

Lung cancer is caused by atypical and excessive cell division in your lungs. Lung cancer is responsible for 21% of all cancer deaths and is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

Lung cancer can cause a wide range of symptoms including:

  • persistent cough, which may contain blood
  • chest pain
  • hoarseness
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • fatigue and weakness
  • recurrent lung infections, such as pneumonia or bronchitis
  • persistent fatigue
  • anemia

Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer, and it significantly worsens its progression. Smoking causes chronic irritation and inflammation, making it more likely for precancerous cells to progress to cancer.

In addition, the chemicals in cigarette smoke can damage the DNA in your lung cells and increase the risk of mutations.

Treatments for lung cancer aim to eliminate cancer in your body, slow its growth, or reduce pain, depending on the stage of the cancer.

Common treatments for lung cancer include:

Asthma is a chronic lung condition characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the airways, making breathing difficult.

Numerous factors can trigger asthma, including allergens, irritants, exercise, and certain medications. The severity of asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe and may be managed with the use of inhaled medications and by avoiding triggers.

Common symptoms of asthma include:

  • wheezing
  • chest tightness
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing, especially at night or early in the morning

Smoking doesn’t cause asthma, but it can make it much worse by irritating and damaging the airways, leading to increased inflammation and narrowing of the airways.

Treatment options for asthma include:

  • inhaled bronchodilators, corticosteroids, and other medications can help open up the airways
  • avoiding triggers, such as allergens, environmental irritants, and certain foods
  • lifestyle changes, such as increasing sleep and making dietary adjustments

Smoking accounts for about 80% of all COPD cases. For both COPD and lung cancer, early detection and treatment is key — it can significantly improve outlook.

Be sure to see a healthcare professional if you currently smoke or used to smoke and have any of the following symptoms:

  • persistent cough
  • chest pain
  • hoarseness
  • wheezing
  • coughing up blood
  • shortness of breath

They can help make a diagnosis and recommend the appropriate treatment, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, or further testing, such as imaging tests or biopsy.

Smoking is harmful to your entire body, but your lungs are particularly susceptible. The chemicals and toxins in tobacco smoke damage the delicate tissues of your lungs, leading to inflammation, irritation, and narrowing of the airways.

Over time, this can cause permanent damage to the airways in your lungs, increasing your risk of developing serious lung diseases, such as emphysema and lung cancer.

If you experience any breathing symptoms, reach out to a healthcare professional as soon as you can. Early detection and treatment can significantly improve your outlook.