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Four Ways Smoking Affects Your Sinuses

Smoking is known to be especially harmful on your respiratory system, and has been linked to numerous types of cancer. But did you know that it can wreak havoc on your sinuses, too?

A recent study led by the Sinus Center at Mass. Eye and Ear quantified the detrimental effects of smoking on the sinuses, measuring severity of symptoms and quality-of-life impact. They also found a silver lining — on average, these detrimental effects resolve about ten years after breaking the habit.

Dr. Ahmad Sedaghat, senior author on the study and a sinus surgeon at Mass. Eye and Ear, says that many of his patients who smoke complain of sinus issues.

He tells his patients: “It’s making those symptoms, the same symptoms that are making you miserable, worse.”

But how does smoking affect your sinuses?

#1: Smoking changes the lining of your nasal passages.

The nasal passages are lined with hair-like cells called cilia, which move back and forth. They work with mucus to prevent infection by trapping foreign particles and then “sweeping” them away, expelling the potential infection out of the body.

The chemicals used in cigarettes, like hydrogen cyanide and ammonia, are toxic to cilia and impair movement. Without movement, there’s a buildup of mucus in the nasal passages.

#2: Smoking increases the risk of infection.

The sinuses are the body’s first line of defense against foreign particles. When exposed to irritants like pollen or moderate amounts of smoke, the cilia and mucus in the nasal passages can do their jobs, and clear the passages effectively. But high volumes of smoke can impair the body’s ability to sweep away harmful bacteria and viruses, essentially opening a door of pathogens to enter the body.

Smokers tend to get sick more often and more easily than non-smokers because of an impaired immune system. Despite being relatively healthy, many young smokers are at risk for developing pneumonia.

#3: Smokers experience chronic facial pain and headaches

As a symptom of chronic sinusitis, facial pain is common among smokers. Without the movement of the cilia, nasal passages may become blocked. This causes inflammation and pain felt from the cheekbones, to the nose bridge, to under the eyes. The pain may even manifest as pressure on the upper rear teeth, which are near the sinuses.

#4: Smokers have difficulty sleeping through the night

The paralyzing effects that cigarette smoke has on nasal cilia also affect the cilia in the passages leading to the lungs. Without the cilia moving irritants along, people who smoke may feel congested, and wake up coughing because of the mucus buildup.

Smokers are also at risk of developing sleep apnea. A 2011 study found that smokers are 2.5 times more likely to have sleep apnea because cigarette smoke induces swelling that restricts air flow.

There’s still a chance for symptoms to reverse.

If you smoke, however, don’t lose all hope. Our recent study shows that symptoms of sinus disease abate after stopping. Dr. Sedaghat says this should provide some motivation for his patients to put down the cigarettes.

“If patients tell me that they are smoking, I now have direct evidence to say that the same symptoms that are making them miserable are exacerbated further by smoking,” he says. “On the other hand, we can also be optimistic, because we have evidence to suggest that if you quit smoking, things will get better – on the order of 10 years.”

14 thoughts on “Four Ways Smoking Affects Your Sinuses”

  1. I was a smoker for 20+ years and for the last year, my nose was completely blocked, day or night, but not with mucus. I found out, I might have enlarged sinus in my nostrils, so I started to use nostril spray (yea the chemical type) to unblock the passages. After I stopped smoking, I had to use the spray less and less and when I felt my nasal ways opening by themselves as soon as I went to bed (something with the blood pressure I think), I was able to stop using it completely. Chin up, it gets better, just stop smoking cold turkey (I tried numerous ways, only this helped)!

  2. I smoked for 35 years and quit and I have more problems now than when I smoked. but I’m still not going to start up again. If you smoke quit.

  3. I was a smoker for 20 + years ,quit smoking cold turkey some 20 years ago
    I suffer from allergies now days… 64 years young.
    My lungs and heart are good. I think I quit on time.

  4. I have this same problem as it is in the above mentioned article.may I know what to do ? Can you please recommend me some medicine name or home remedies. Thanks.

  5. Iam having faul smell in my nose and I am not able to taste anything …. Did that means that iam having sinusitis viral infection ??

  6. This really opened my eyes about how cigarettes effect the sinuses, this is why im miserable every day, if i quit smoking today does that mean it will take 10 years before i get my sinuses back and feel better?

  7. I have developed a sinusitis and now i think i will quit smoking forever. i have been smoking cigarettes since 2017. i have never taken or smoked any drugs. The struggle to quit smoking is to stay active and exercise and train. Eat and drink plenty and rest.

  8. I used to smoke like a chimney and I always had a mild throat infection and fever. I would take antibiotics everyday for two weeks a month. I went to a doctor and he asked me if I smoked, and I said no, because I knew he would say I should stop and that none of my smoker friends had the same problems, so he said it’s probably dust allergy. lol Until Covid hit and I quit smoking because I knew Covid would attack the lungs. It took only two months for all those problems to go away. No more chronic fevers and throat infections. I still smoke on rare occasions, but it’s so easy for me not to get hooked again after I realized what it did to my body. Imagine taking antibiotics everyday for half a year, every year. There are still triggers that make me really want to smoke, like rain, slow jazz or alcohol. lol But even if I give in to the temptation, I find myself walking away from it before I know it. Anytime I get that tingling feeling of infection in my throat, I know it’s the cigarettes.

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