Hiya! Eclectablog here. This is the third in a series of 4 "Chris the Science Geek" essays I wrote for the most-awesome Quitnet.com years ago where I (a) quit smoking and (b) met my wife of 6 years. Forgive my lack of diary last week. Apparently I still have CRS...
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Recently, an intrepid Quitster asked, "why am I getting sick MORE now that I have quit smoking? I thought I was supposed to be getting HEALTHIER?!" If you are interested in the answer to this question, pull up a chair, relax with a nice beverage and Chris the Science Geek will endeavor to explain this phenomenon to you.
[Cue dream sequence music and spinning spiral...]
There are several possible explanations for the fact that you seem to be getting sick MORE often rather than less often now that you have quit smoking. The first is that you aren't actually SICK but just experiencing "cold-like symptoms". In other words, your body is exhibiting natural responses to quitting smoking and they look a lot like the symptoms you get when you have a cold. For example, a healthy adult human produces between a pint and a quart of mucous EVERY DAY. Small hair-like cilia in the sinus cavities wave back and forth and circulate the mucous through you sinuses and, eventually, into the back of your throat where it is swallowed. The purpose of this is for the sticky mucous to pick up foreign debris (including bacteria and viruses that can make you sick) and send them to your stomach where aggressive stomach acids destroy them.
However, when you smoke, you kill the cilia and your body also may produce less mucous. When you quit, it starts up again, the cilia come back to life and suddenly you are one snotty Quitster. You may have an unusually runny or stuffy nose at times for the first few months of your Quit. It seems a LOT like having a cold.
Another possible explanation is this: when you smoke, your body is in a state of heightened defense, trying to combat the continuous poisoning that happens every time you light up. When you quit, your body sighs and says, "Ahhhh...now I can relax..." Since this relaxation of your immune system is coupled with unhealthy sinuses and dead lung and sinus cilia, you are much more vulnerable to attack from bacteria and viruses. So you get sick more often (colds, sinus infections, upper respiratory infections, etc.) until your body returns to a healthier state.
A final explanation is simply that when you quit, your body quickly moves into "healing" mode. This takes a great deal of energy and it becomes quite easy to get run down if you don't get enough rest. A common lament of new Quitsters is constantly being tired and this is a manifestation of that healing process. If you become run-down, you are more vulnerable to getting sick, as we all know.
Which of these explanations is the one for you? That's hard to say. The truth is that it may be one or all of them. It may also be that a little "revisionist history" is going on and you are only now admitting that you get sick more. Before, you may have attributed it to "allergies" or "the weather" or "sunspots" or "communist insurrectionist plots" - stuff like that. Anything but admitting that your smoking was making you sick. In other words, maybe you aren't sick more, you're just calling it what it is for the first time.
At any rate, we cannot expect to undo in a few days or weeks what we've spent many years causing. It will take time, up to two years for some people, before we really are healed up and see the benefits of not smoking in terms of being sick less. Just be aware of this and help your body out: get plenty of sleep, lower your stress load, drink lots of water to help flush your system and eat properly. You will begin to see evidence that the healing is taking place in a short time. Coughing up gunk a lot? That's evidence that the cilia are coming back to life and helping your lungs to purge themselves. Do you seem to have more energy than you used to? That's evidence your body is healing nicely. Less out of breath after climbing the stairs in your house? One more bit of evidence that you're getting better all the time.
Just remember that all it takes is one puff to get started down this path to dead cilia and constantly getting sick. You've done the one most effective thing you can do to improve your health so don't blow it. Keep the Quit!
Chris the Science Geek
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