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Learn How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking

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Improving Lung Function After Quitting Smoking? Learn How to Clean Your Lungs

Smoking has a profound effect on the body. The lungs are on the front line when it comes to the damaging effects of smoking and some lung pain after quitting smoking is to be expected.

Smoke carries carbon monoxide and other toxic chemicals into the lungs. The oxygen that your lungs are supposed to disseminate throughout the body is reduced leading to higher blood pressure, higher heart rate, and and deprivation of oxygen for all cellular functions.

Needless to say quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health, but also one of the hardest. If you’ve already began your journey to a smoke free life, congratulations! You’ve already taken the most important step toward cleaning your lungs.

Do Lungs Clear After Quitting Smoking?

Your lungs will eventually heal as you continue to stay smoke-free. Time is the biggest factor when it comes to lung repair after quitting smoking.

Just 12 hours after your last cigarette your carbon monoxide levels in your blood return to normal. This helps get your body the oxygen it needs for all cellular function. A critical aspect of lung health is healthy cilia. Cilia are tiny hairlike organelles that are found all throughout your body. Cilia in the lungs have the honorable duty of sweeping out debris, mucus, and other pollutants.

Although your lungs begin to improve after 2 weeks to 3 months, the cilia in your lungs take 1 to 9 months to repair. Healing your lungs after quitting smoking is going to take some time. There is no magic pill to make chest discomfort after quitting smoking disappear, but there are some tips and tricks to give your lungs the best shot at a speedy recovery.

How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking: DIET

Your lungs are already faced with a tough job in clearing out the build up of tar. Don’t add to the gunk in your respiratory system by eating foods that are heavy mucus producers. Dairy is a well known culprit here, but there are other foods that are big time mucus producers that you should avoid to help ease lung pain after quitting smoking.

Foods to Avoid

  • Dairy products produce a lot of mucus. This includes cheese, butter, cream, yogurt, kefir, and milk (all milk including skim, 1%, 2%, whole, and raw organic).
  • Processed foods are heavy mucus producers. Avoid any meats that have been modified to extend shelf life or augment taste such as jerky, bacon, ham, salami, sausage, hot dogs, canned meat and others. Fast food meals are highly processed and should be avoided. Processed vegan/vegetarian foods and food substitutes (mock-meats and cheese substitutes) are also heavy mucus produces. Packaged convenience foods, including frozen convenience foods can be left on the shelf. Processed foods are generally unhealthy and removing such products from your diet will extend health into your life beyond a simple method of how to clean lungs after quitting smoking.
  • Candies and sweets. Sugar is highly mucus producing. Avoid candy bars, pies, cakes, pastries, taffy, gelatin, and other sugary confectionery. Such sweets can be comfort foods for some people, but if your lungs hurt after quitting smoking these types of foods aren’t going to help you feel better.
  • Caffeine can lead to dehydration and thus mucus production. Avoid coffee and highly caffeinated teas or sodas. Drink lots of water instead. Green tea is caffeinated, but also is very antioxidant rich, and thus might be beneficial for lung pain after quitting smoking. Antioxidants can help clear toxins from throughout the body including the lungs.
  • Mild mucus producers include some surprises such as corn and soy products, fatty oils, nuts, seeds, beans, grains (e.g. breads, barley, oats, quinoa, splet, and rice), plus starchy and fatty vegetables (e.g. avocado, mushrooms, green peas, olives, plantains, potatoes, and squashes). Despite the potential for small amounts of mucus, many of the foods in this category are healthy and have other nutritious attributes that can help clean the lungs after quitting smoking. Avoiding all of the mild mucus producers in this list isn’t likely to be a game changer for lung pain after quitting smoking. Still, it could be worth experimentation if you are interested.

Foods to Consume

The list above might leave you wondering what foods you can eat to avoid mucus production. Luckily there are a number of foods and spices that not only avoid mucus production, but that actively help remove mucus from your lungs and thus help relieve chest discomfort after quitting smoking.

  • Pineapple contains a compound called bromelain, which helps reduce inflammation. Bromelain also helps you increase lung elasticity so that you can take in more oxygen with deeper breaths.
  • Honey. Some anecdotal evidence suggests a teaspoon of honey taken daily can provide many health benefits including removing pollutants from the lungs. Even if it isn’t as effective as some people claim, a spoonful of delicious isn’t a bad way to start your day!
  • Citrus fruits and berries (lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, kumquats, blueberries, blackberries, etc.).
  • Leafy greens and herbs (brussel sprouts, celery, asparagus, bamboo shoots, cauliflower, broccoli, tyme, rosemary, oregano, etc.).
  • Radishes (including red, daikon, horseradish, and others) have many health benefits and they are particularly good for mitigating lung discomfort after quitting smoking. They eliminate excess mucus, soothe sore throats, clear sinuses, and decrease congestion in the respiratory system.
  • Spicy roots including garlic, onions, ginger, and turmeric are excellent for the lungs.
  • Hot peppers.
  • Foods with high chlorophyll (including juiced wheatgrass, spirulina, and sprouted seeds) help oxygenate the body.

How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking: AVOID POLLUTANTS

Cleaning your lungs after quitting smoking will go easier if other pollutants aren’t getting into your respiratory system. There are plenty of common pollutants that can be easily breathed in, affecting your lung health and possibly adding to chest pain after quitting smoking.

The biggest thing is to avoid other smokers. Not only will second-hand smoke irritate your lungs, other smokers are likely to induce cravings and possibly cause you to relapse. Smoke from other sources, such as fires or wood burning stoves, should be avoided as well.

Keep your living spaces ventilated and clean. An in home air purifier can remove allergens and particulate matter helping your lungs to access clean air. Certain plants help accomplish this goal, consider purchasing a house plant such as a spider plant, rubber tree, or a peace lily. Fresh air is great for the lungs and can help reduce lung pain after quitting smoking. Try sleeping with windows open to let in some outside air. Keeping clean and fresh air in the household is also helped by keeping up with dusting and vacuuming.

Although a clean house helps the lungs get clean air, many household cleaning products contain harmful chemicals and should be used with caution. Ammonia in particular is highly irritable to the respiratory system.

How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking: BREATHING EXERCISES

Pursed lip breathing and diaphragmatic breathing exercises are recommended by pulmonary rehabilitation specialists to help lungs function properly. If you don’t have a chronic lung disease, but your lungs hurt after quitting smoking, these exercises will help cleanse your lungs and get them back to full health.

Pursed lip breathing is done by slowly inhaling through the nose for approximately 2 seconds. A normal breath is sufficient, deep breaths are not necessary. Exhale through the mouth for approximately 4 seconds making sure to purse your lips constricting airflow. Breathe out steadily and slowly. The extra time spent on the exhale compared to the inhale is important. Be sure to relax your head, neck and shoulders throughout the exercise. The benefits of pursed lip breathing exercises include:

  • Opening air passages for easier breathing.
  • Moving old and stale air out of the lungs.
  • Promoting relaxation.
  • Relieving shortness of breath.

Diaphragmatic breathing (also called belly breathing) is another breathing exercise that helps increase pulmonary function. Doing this exercise can help clean your lungs after quitting smoking. Diaphragmatic breathing is similar to pursed lip breathing, but it adds an element of diaphragm exercise.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. As you inhale allow the hand on your belly to rise up while the hand on your chest remains in place. During the exhale, breathe out slowly through pursed lips. Use the hand that is on your belly to help push air out. Repeat the exercise 3 to 10 times. Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing include:

  • Strengthening and lengthening of respiratory muscles.
  • Increasing cardiorespiratory fitness.

Yoga includes a large component of breath exercises and whole body exercises. Both are good for healthy lung function and improving your lungs after quitting smoking. Consider adding a yoga routine to your day.

How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking: PHYSICAL EXERCISE

Physical fitness is a critical aspect of a healthy body, including the lungs. The benefits of physical exercise are numerous and range from weight control, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, improving mental health and mood, and reducing risk of some cancers. Furthermore, exercising releases endorphins and dopamine, which helps with nicotine withdrawal.

If you aren’t accustomed to physical exercise then slowly add it to your routine. Gradually ramp up your physical activity as the weeks turn into months. As you exercise, you may notice coughing will occur as a response. By exercising, the phlegm and mucus in your respiratory system becomes dislodged and you cough to expel it from your system. The coughing may be uncomfortable, but getting rid of all the gunk will help heal your lungs after quitting smoking. Hit two birds with one stone and get outside to exercise in some fresh outdoor air.

How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking: MASSAGE

Treat yourself to some massage therapy. Receiving a massage relaxes muscles, including the muscles involved in respiratory function. Easing tension from these muscles helps improve respiration. Massages also help the body distribute lymph evenly. Lymph is a fluid that attacks bacteria in the blood. It is a critical component of the immune system and it helps the body remove toxins. A massage can help you clean out your lungs after quitting smoking by facilitating the distribution of lymph throughout your body.

When to contact a doctor

Contact a doctor right away if you are having chest pain after quitting smoking that radiates into the left arm, neck and jaw; tightness, squeezing, or heaviness in the chest ; shortness of breath, sweating, and nausea.

If you are a smoker, anytime is a good time to talk with a doctor about quitting. Talking with a doctor about quitting can improve your chance for a successful quit by more than double. A doctor can help construct a quit-plan that is right for you including recommendations for over-the-counter or prescription medications.

If you are ready to quit, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a phone appointment with a top U.S. doctor today.

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Margaret A Spera, NP, APRN

Margaret A Spera, NP, APRN

Margaret Spera is a Connecticut-based nurse practitioner. She has worked in hospital settings, family practices and senior care facilities for over 40 years.

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