Shortness of Breath After Quitting Smoking

Smoking results in cumulative harm to your body, causing lung cancer and other diseases. It’s never too late to quit smoking. The sooner you do it, the healthier you’ll be. After quitting smoking, you’ll experience many changes. But some could seem counterintuitive. For example, you might experience a shortness of breath or chest tightness. How can this be?

What Causes Shortness of Breath After Quitting Smoking?

As soon as you quit smoking, your body will begin to fix itself. Your lungs will start repairing damaged tissues by removing chemicals and toxins that have accumulated during your smoking time. While this happens, you may experience flu-like symptoms (such as a sore throat and stuffed nose) and start to cough up mucus, which is your body’s attempt to purge the toxins from your respiratory system.

Besides coughing, it’s not uncommon to also experience tightness in your chest and shortness of breath. Depending on how long you’ve been smoking and your overall health, these symptoms may last several weeks or more.

Other possible explanations for shortness of breath once smoking has ceased include:

  • Increased Feelings of Stress or Anxiety. This is particularly true with ex-smokers who used smoking as a form of relaxation.
  • Few Chances for Deep Breathing. Shortness of breath after quitting smoking can also be caused by taking fewer deep breaths. With no more cigarettes to force you to breathe slowly and deeply, it’s common to find yourself short of breath.
  • Certain Underlying Lung Sensitivities. They can show up once smoking has stopped. For instance, those who have sensitive lungs might have gotten used to a tar coating inside the lungs. Once that tar coating is gone, lungs aren’t used to feeling air that only has “normal” particles, like dust or pollen. Once this tar-free tissue is exposed to normal air particles, coughing and shortness of breath can occur.

The bottom line is that shortness of breath is common. As long as the shortness of breath doesn’t last a long time and result in pale or blue skin (from the body not getting enough oxygen), then you’re probably fine. But if you’re worried, talk to the doctor to ensure the symptoms aren’t caused by underlying medical issues.

What You Can Do with the Situation

To help relieve the symptoms after quitting smoking, try the following measures.

  • Be sure to hydrate more. You can do this by increasing the humidity of your living or working space and drinking a lot of fluids.
  • You can also make a point of avoiding dirty air. Wear a mask during your recovery time. By breathing clean air, you can speed up your lungs' healing.
  • In addition, get plenty of exercises. Aerobic exercises are good for improving lung and heart function. Aim for 30 minutes of activity each day. As long as your lungs aren’t too far gone, it won’t be long before you’ll be feeling much better.

Breathing Exercises After Quitting Smoking

The shortness of breath after quitting smoking can be reduced by engaging in deep breathing exercises. Here are three breathing techniques that may help.

  • Belly Breathing Feels Better: Belly breathing involves allowing your belly to expand as you take a deep breath. You’ll become more conscious of your breathing by watching yourself breathe. The most positive effects are best achieved when having deep breathing in a quiet place.
  • Do Hold Your Breath: Holding your breath is a great way to practice deep breathing. Start by slowly and deeply inhaling and exhaling several times, counting to eight each time. Then take in a full breath until you can’t take in any more air. Hold your breath for 5 seconds, and then exhale. Inhale and exhale a few times before repeating the process over again.
  • Open Your Mouth and Say "Ah": Saying “ah” as you exhale can help you with belly breathing. In fact, a forced exhaling with belly breathing is a type of yoga exercise called pranayama. To do pranayama, inhale slowly through your nose until your lungs are full of air. Then exhale slowly through your mouth while you say “ah”. This pranayama exercise will help you improve your lung capacity and allow you to inhale and exhale more deeply.

More Things to Expect After Quitting Smoking

Besides shortness of breath after quitting smoking, here are more things you may experience after quitting smoking.

  • Depressed Mood: Depression is a common side effect of nicotine withdrawal. If depression gets too severe, you should consult with a doctor, since persistent depression can easily result in temptation to smoke again.
  • Insomnia: This is another common withdrawal symptom. In order to sleep better, avoid caffeine, get regular exercise and try deep breathing exercises before bed.
  • Irritability, Frustration or Anger: Almost immediately after you stop smoking, you’ll notice that you are easily annoyed or upset. This feeling of irritability is to be expected and will soon pass as your body adjusts. Relaxation exercises can help.
  • Anxiety: Many people smoke to reduce stress. When this coping habit is gone, stress and anxiety can build up. Find alternative stress relief habits, such as listening to relaxing music, enjoying a hobby or talking to a trusted friend.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: This is another side effect of nicotine withdrawal, but it will soon pass. Give yourself a little extra time to get tasks done while you get used to living without nicotine.
  • Gaining Weight: Smoking reduces appetite. Once smoking stops, the feelings of hunger may return. To fight this, try chewing nicotine gum, avoid high calorie foods, drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.
  • Constipation: If you feel constipated once smoking has stopped, you might need to have a diet high in fiber, take fiber supplements, and stay well hydrated.
  • Headaches: Headaches can be seen after quitting smoking. To help ease the pain, try taking ibuprofen, aspirin or acetaminophen. You can also try to keep your head and neck cool. If the headaches are unbearable, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor.
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