Smoking introduces chemicals into your throat and lungs. Coughing is your body’s way of clearing these airways, and when it persists for a long time, it is called smoker’s cough.

Smoker’s cough tends to sound different than regular coughing. It involves wheezing and crackling noises associated with phlegm in your throat. Smoker’s cough also tends to be wet, or productive. That means it carries a lot of mucus and phlegm with it.

Smoker’s cough can become chronic if you’re a daily smoker. It can make your throat and lungs hurt. Many treatments can help manage the irritation and soothe your throat.

Cilia are the tiny hair-like structures along your airways. When you smoke, the cilia lose some of their ability to push chemicals and other foreign materials out of your lungs. Because of this, toxins remain in your lungs for much longer than they normally would. In response, your body has to cough more to remove the chemicals from your lungs.

Smoker’s cough can be especially irritating in the morning. This is because cilia regain their ability to remove the chemicals from your lungs when you haven’t smoked for a few hours. This can make your cough much more unpleasant when you wake up.

A smoker’s cough can also involve postnasal drip. This is when mucus leaks into your throat. It causes you to cough or clear your throat frequently, and it can make your cough worse.

Read more: The effects of smoking on the body »

A variety of treatments are available for smoker’s cough. These range from traditional treatments to alternative and home remedies.

Traditional treatments

The best way to treat smoker’s cough is to decrease the amount you smoke or quit smoking altogether. Quitting smoking removes the cause of the cough.

Other traditional ways to help treat your cough include:

Treating smoker’s cough

  • Soothe your throat with cough drops, lozenges, or a salt water gargle.
  • Drink 6–8 glasses of water per day to keep the mucus in your lungs and throat thin.
  • Elevate your head above the rest of your body while you sleep to make sure mucus doesn’t gather in your throat.
  • Exercise 30 minutes per day on a regular basis. Exercise loosens up your mucus and makes it easier to cough up phlegm.
  • Avoid coffee or alcohol to help lessen the severity of your cough. Coffee and alcohol can dehydrate you and cause irritation.
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If these treatments don’t help, ask your doctor about medications that might help relieve your symptoms. Common medications for conditions related to smoker’s cough include bronchodilators and corticosteroids.

Bronchodilators help the muscles around your airways relax. They’re usually taken using an inhaler. A short-acting bronchodilator works for a few hours and is only used when necessary. A long-acting one works for at least 12 hours and you take it every day. Your doctor will decide if one is right for you.

Corticosteroids help relieve inflammation in your airways. They’re used alongside bronchodilators.

Natural and alternative treatments

The vapor of certain essential oils can be useful in relieving some symptoms of smoker’s cough.

For example, a study published in BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine suggested that chemicals in eucalyptus oils were effective. They treated other painful conditions that often go along with smoker’s cough, including bronchitis and pharyngitis.

Try using a humidifier or a diffuser with these essential oils. The vapor can soothe your throat and relieve symptoms such as inflammation.

Herbal supplements can also help treat your cough, sore throat, and other symptoms. These supplements may include:

  • ginger
  • oregano
  • rosemary

Home remedies

You can make some treatments at home to relieve and treat the discomfort of your cough. Try the following remedies:

  • Drink green tea, which contains antioxidants, or chamomile tea, which contains ingredients that have a relaxing effect on your body.
  • Use honey in your hot tea or water, or swallow a teaspoonful of it every day. Honey will coat your throat and reduce throat irritation.
  • Take vitamin C supplements or drink liquids with high amounts of vitamin C, such as orange juice.

Smoker’s cough can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to indefinitely, depending on how heavily you smoke.

If you smoke a cigarette or two every once in a while, your cough will likely go away a few days after you stop smoking.

If you smoke regularly, you’ll likely have symptoms for as long as you smoke. You also may not be able to get rid of your cough easily, even with many of the treatments and home remedies that can soothe the symptoms.

If you smoke heavily, your cough may last for months, even after you quit or decrease your smoking. In some cases, you may have a smoker’s cough for years after you quit.

Some symptoms of lung cancer are similar to those of a smoker’s cough, such as hoarseness and wheezing. So it may not always be easy to tell the difference. But cigarettes, cigars, and electronic cigarette vapors contain many substances that can cause cancer. These are known as carcinogens.

If you have any of the following symptoms, especially if you’re a heavy smoker, talk to your doctor about getting screened for lung cancer:

  • unintentional and sudden weight loss
  • coughing up blood
  • constant chest pain

Getting screened for lung cancer soon after you develop these symptoms can decrease your risk. Finding cancer early can help you beat it before it gets worse or spreads beyond your lungs. Your doctor may recommend lung cancer screening even if you don’t have any of these symptoms, based on how much you smoke.

Learn more: 9 early signs of lung cancer »

Complications of smoker’s cough vary depending on how often you smoke, how severe your cough is, and whether you have any underlying conditions.

Complications can include:

  • damage to your throat
  • hoarse voice
  • itching and irritation in your airways
  • long-term, chronic cough
  • increased infections

Smoking over a long period of time can cause toxic chemicals to build up in your lungs and airways. This can cause you to develop other conditions, such as:

Smoking is all around bad for your health. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit, especially if you notice effects on your health, such as smoker’s cough.

If you have symptoms that interfere with your daily life, see your doctor to find out if you have an underlying condition causing your cough. These symptoms might include:

  • constant pain along with your cough
  • abnormal weight loss
  • pain in your bones
  • headaches
  • coughing up green or yellow mucus

See your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • inability to control your bladder when you cough
  • pain in your ribs from injury or fracturing
  • coughing up blood
  • passing out after episodes of coughing

All of these symptoms may indicate conditions such as:

Quitting smoking is the best way to stop a smoker’s cough and prevent any serious conditions. It’s not easy to quit smoking, but it will be well worth your effort to try. Your doctor can help and may refer you to programs that help you quit.

You have many options for treating your smoker’s cough and any underlying conditions. There’s plenty you can do at home right away, too, to make sure your cough doesn’t keep you from enjoying your life.

Next: The best apps to help you quit smoking »