Book an appointment Feather-communication-phone
lung-cancer-before-after-smoking

Blog Primary Care

Pictures of Lungs After Quitting Smoking

writtenByWritten by: Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse
Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa Chatham Registered Nurse

Tessa is a MSN prepared Registered Nurse with 10 years of critical care experience in healthcare. When not practicing clinical nursing, she enjoys academic writing and is passionate about helping those affected by medical aliments live healthy lives.

Read more posts by this author.

January 28, 2021 Read Time - 7 minutes

Cigarettes have been around for decades and were first introduced in the United States in the early 19th century. Cigarettes gained popularity in the early 1900s and were even praised during WWI for helping the wounded “relax” and ease their pain.

Smoking was first linked to lung cancer in 1940 and the early 1950s. In 1954 the Surgeon General’s scientific study determined a causal link between excessive cigarette smoke and lung cancer.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States. Yet, 34 million US adults smoke cigarettes.

Below we’ve compiled some images of smokers’ lungs after quitting smoking, and of the damage cigarettes and tobacco products can do to your lungs. 

  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Lungs Before and After Smoking

PIcture of lung before and after smoking
Image credit: https://smart.servier.com/smart_image/lung-cancer/

The lung on the left is damaged from smoking, but after just a few weeks of being tobacco free, the lungs begin to repair themselves.

Cilia, microscopic hairs in the lungs, work to clear the tar, debire and other pollutants. This may lead to an uncomfortable cough and chest pain. Lungs begin to return to normal (pink, elastic) after you quit smoking

It takes anywhere from 1 to 9 months for cilia to repair themselves, longer for long term smokers. Things like diet and exercise can help repair your lungs over time. 

Pictures of Lungs After Recently Quitting Smoking

Image source:  https://quit-prevent-smoking-ns.weebly.com/

Lung repair may happen faster than you think. While some smokers may have caused irreversible damage to their lungs, quitting smoking will always lead to improved lung function, even if they never return to how they were before smoking. 

Smoking for Years and Then Quitting Smoking

As mentioned above, the lungs will begin to repair themselves just weeks after you quit and while quitting is by no means an easy process, the reduced risk of disease and death makes the decision all the more important, even if you’ve been smoking for decades.

Read: Quit Smoking Medications

Smoker’s Lungs After 30 Years 

Image source: https://life.shared.com/transplant-doctor-shocked-black-lungs-donated-chain-smoker

After 30 years of smoking, the lungs will likely have irreversible damage and the risk of all types of disease is drastically increased, including lung cancer, COPD, and heart disease.

While the lungs may never return to normal, it is still worth quitting smoking even after 30 or more years. 

What Does Smoking Do To Your Lungs?

Smoking can cause severe damage to your lungs and small air sacs called alveoli.

This damage leads to build of tar and other pollutants in your lungs which can cause discoloration and the blackening of lung tissue.

Smoking may cause lung diseases such as COPD, chronic bronchitis, emphysema and lung cancer.

Beyond lung damage smoking can cause heart disease, liver disease, mouth cancer and more. 

What Are The Risks of Smoking?

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. Complications from smoking include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Esophagus cancer
  • Larynx (voice box) cancer
  • Liver cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Kidney and pelvis cancer
  • Urinary bladder cancer
  • Uterine/cervical cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • COPD
  • Heart Disease
  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Irregular heart beats
  • Stroke
  • Pregnancy complications like low birth weight and defects
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

How Long Does it Take for Tar to Leave Your Lungs?

Cigarettes contain many chemicals including nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, radioactive elements, benzene, carbon monoxide, tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

When you inhale the cigarette smoke there is tar present while the product is being burned. The last puffs on a cigarette can contain twice as much tar as with the first puffs. This tar sticks to the cells in your lungs called the cilia and paralyzes them. 

Cilia’s main function is to help move microbes and debris up and out of the airways. If cilia is paralyzed, you are more at risk to develop lung diseases such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and lung cancer.

After you quit smoking, your cilia begin to heal which takes 1 to 9 months. However, the tar that caused the damage in the first place can take even longer to leave your lungs.

How Long Does it Take for Lungs to Heal After Quitting Smoking?

Lung improvement begins after 2 weeks to 3 months.

Healing your lungs completely will take time and sometimes you are never completely healed from the damage.

The bottom line is that smoking, especially long term, has serious and often irreversible damage.

The sooner you quit smoking, the better chances you have to repair your lungs. There is no magic pill to heal your lungs after quitting.

Oftentimes if you have been smoking for decades, it can take decades for your lungs to heal.

But can lungs heal after 40 years of smoking?

While they will likely never return to normal, your lungs will begin to heal the moment you quit.

Can Lungs Go Back to Normal After Quitting Smoking?

Yes, your lungs can go back to normal after quitting smoking.

One large study found that after 20 years smoke-free, the risk of COPD drops to the same as if you have never smoked and after 30 years, the risk of lung cancer also drops to the same risk as non-smokers.

How to Clean Lungs After Quitting Smoking?

There is no magic pill or solution to clean your lungs after quitting smoking. This is mostly because of the extensive and internal damage smoking does to the body. That said, there are some things that can be done to help improve lung health.

  • Certain dietary restrictions – Avoid foods that promote and produce mucus such as dairy, processed foods, candies, and caffeine. Foods that help heal the lungs are pineapples, honey, citrus fruits, leafy greens, and radishes. 
  • Breathing exercises – Breathing exercises can help clean your lungs out. Pursed-lip breathing can be done by slowly inhaling through the nose for about 2 seconds and then exhaling through the mouth with tight lips for about 4 seconds.
  • Physical exercises – Physical exercise gets blood moving and that includes blood surrounding the lungs. This helps activate the cilia to then move out debris that is stuck in your lungs from smoking. 
  • Avoiding certain triggers – Other triggers to avoid include other smokers, secondhand smoke, cleaning materials (liquids) may aggravate your lungs, strong perfumes, and fires or wood burning stoves.
  • Book on our free mobile app or website.

    Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

  • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

  • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.

PlushCare-App-Steps

Get Help Quitting Smoking

Smoking is a chemical addiction and oftentimes people need help to quit. According to the American Heart Association, the science behind nicotine addiction is clear, yet many people still do not realize cigarettes are as hard to quit as cocaine or heroin. 

Do not wait to quit, now is the time to start to heal your lungs and preserve your health.

A doctor can help construct a plan to quit smoking that is right for you. You may even benefit from prescription medications that are proven to help you quit. 

If you are ready to quit, call or book online with PlushCare to set up a video appointment with a top U.S. doctor today. Our doctors have helped countless patients quit smoking by providing supportive, realistic treatment plans, including necessary prescriptions like Chantix

Read More About Quitting Smoking

Sources:

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

American Cancer Society. (2020). Tobacco and Cancer. Harmful chemicals in tobacco.  https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/carcinogens-found-in-tobacco-products.html

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Smoking and tobacco use: Health effects of cigarette smoking. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Office of Smoking and Health (OSH). OSH at a glance. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/about/osh/index.htm

Lung Health. (2019). Does tar stay in your lungs forever? Lung Health Institute. https://lunginstitute.com/blog/does-tar-stay-in-your-lungs-forever

Lung Institute. Pursed Lips Breathing: How to Do It and Why It Helps. https://lunginstitute.com/blog/pursed-lips-breathing-helps/ 

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A Report of the Surgeon General. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2010.

Photo credit: Lungs begin to return to normal after you quit smoking. Servier Medical Art. Creative Common License. Retrieved from https://smart.servier.com/smart_image/lung-cancer/

Photo credit: Smoking for years and then quitting smoking. Retrieved from https://myhealthonly.net/smokers-lungs/

Photo credit: Pictures of lungs after recently quitting smoking. https://quit-prevent-smoking-ns.weebly.com/

Photo credit: Smokers lung after 30 years of chain smoking. Retrieved from https://life.shared.com/transplant-doctor-shocked-black-lungs-donated-chain-smoker

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

Our commitment to you.

PlushCare is dedicated to providing you with accurate and trustworthy health information.

  • right Tick Image

    Research from sources you can trust

  • right Tick Image

    Medical reviews by field experts

  • right Tick Image

    Frequent content updates

More to learn.

HMO vs. PPO: What’s the Difference?

HMO vs. PPO: What’s the Difference?

HMO vs. PPO: Which Is Better? A health maintenance organization (HMO) and preferred provider organization (PPO) are two different types…

Skye Kalil 7 minutes
National Bullying Prevention Month 2019

National Bullying Prevention Month 2019

National Bullying Prevention Month 2019 October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and we thought this what the perfect time to…

Leah McCabe 5 minutes
Mold Skin Rash

Mold Skin Rash

Mold-Associated Skin Rash: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments If you believe that you are suffering from a mold skin rash, it…

Sydney Garrow 6 minutes