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Inside your Lungs: How Smoking Does its Damage

By Michael W. Rosen, M.D.
Published in Healthy Mind Healthy Body

150x150_refine_nicotinemythsfacts.jpgSmoking is bad. We all know that.

In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, tobacco use is responsible for nearly 1 in every 5 deaths in the United States.

But, what exactly does smoking do to your lungs?

If you smoke, the answer to that question could be important. It may give you the extra nudge you need to quit tobacco for good.

Peril in every puff: A toxic mix
To start with, consider that when you inhale tobacco smoke, it brings more than 7,000 chemicals into your lungs. And, more than 60 of those are known to cause cancer. Here are just a few you might be familiar with:

  • Cyanide — sometimes used to exterminate pests and vermin
  • Formaldehyde — used as a preservative in labs and mortuaries Ammonia — included in many household and industrial cleaners
  • Carbon monoxide — the same poisonous gas that's in car exhaust fumes
  • Benzene — found in gasoline

Taking your breath away
Tobacco use can harm your body in many ways — from your gums to your eyes to your heart to your bones. And, for smokers, the lungs do take a terrible hit.

When inhaled, smoke immediately begins to damage and irritate cells. Among other things, it harms your cilia. They are the tiny, hair-like structures that normally sweep mucus and impurities out of your lungs and airways.

Some people develop a "smoker's cough." It can be a sign that smoke-damaged cilia are trying to do their job. But, eventually, cilia may stop working altogether.

Smoking is the single strongest risk factor for lung cancer. But, it also leads to another dangerous condition: COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. With COPD, damaged and inflamed lungs aren't able to fill up and deflate as they should. The two most common forms are emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

According to the National Institutes of Health, COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Smoking is to blame for up to 90 percent of cases. And, the longer and heavier you smoke, the greater your risk of COPD.

And, when it comes to cancer, the lungs aren't the only worry. Smoking has been linked to cancers of the throat, mouth, bladder, pancreas, cervix, ovaries, colon, rectum, kidney and stomach — to name a few.

Spreading the risk
When you light up around the people you love, you're harming them, too. People who inhale your secondhand smoke are breathing the same dangerous chemicals you are — and can develop similar health problems. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of tobacco smoke.

Be a quitter!
It's never too late to stop smoking — or kick another tobacco habit. Start by talking with your doctor. He or she can help you find the best strategy for you. Your plan to quit may include counseling, support groups, nicotine replacement products and other cessation tools.*

Quitting tobacco often takes several tries — so don't give up. Millions of people have done it. And, you can, too.

This article is provided by Healthy Mind Healthy Body. Please click on the link below to register for your own monthly newsletter.

© 2013, United HealthCare Services, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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