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COVID-19 - an infection caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus - is rapidly spreading across the globe, already infecting over a million people and targeting especially those who have a pre-existing medical history.

For this reason, doctors have been advising special precautions for people living with systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure. (Read more: Why is the new coronavirus more dangerous for diabetics?

In addition to this, doctors have also been warning smokers to stay at home: it is a well-established fact that tobacco has a large influence on the respiratory system of the body. For instance, tobacco is the most common reason for lung cancer. A Chinese study, published in February, based on 1,099 COVID-19 infected patients stated that out of those admitted to the ICU (intensive care unit), 25.5% were smokers.

Though this doesn't prove a correlation between COVID-19 and smoking, both doctors here in India and the World Health Organization have been asking people to try and quit smoking during this time. Here in this article, we will tell you how smoking affects the lungs and may attract the COVID-19 infection.

  1. How smoking affects the lungs
  2. Are smokers at risk of COVID-19 infection?
  3. What should smokers do to prevent COVID-19 infection?
  4. Doctors for COVID-19 and Smoking

Our airways are lined with hairlike structures known as cilia that are constantly moving. Cilia help in removing the mucous and inhaled debris. These structures also help to remove potentially infectious agents from the airways and lungs before the pathogen can give you an infection.

The chemicals found in cigarettes have very serious effects on the cilia. In a chronic smoker, cigarette chemicals restrict the movement of cilia which makes it difficult for the cilia to remove the mucous efficiently.

Over time, these inhaled chemicals kill the cilia, thus increasing the risk of infection.

When an infection targets the airway, the immune system releases lymphocytes: a part of white blood cells, which fight off infections. When cilia is missing from the airways, the fight between the lymphocyte and the infection leads to inflammation.

Read more: COVID-19 and inflammation

Due to missing or damaged cilia, the chance of getting an infection increases in smokers. Moreover, chronic smokers have a higher chance of developing systemic diseases like hypertension, heart disease, circulatory diseases and chronic lung disease (which leads to lung damage and decreased lung capacity) - all of which are risk factors for acquiring severe symptoms of COVID-19. (Read more: High blood pressure and COVID-19)

Various studies have concluded that smoking leads to an increase in the levels of ACE2 receptors in the body. The COVID-19 virus attaches to the ACE2 receptors which are present on the surface of the cell membranes. As the number of ACE2 receptors increases in the body, they allow the virus to invade the body more easily.

Doctors say it is a good idea to quit tobacco use at any time, but especially now that the world is in the grip of an infectious respiratory disease. Quitting smoking is especially important at this time to reduce the harm caused by COVID-19. Surprisingly, the health of a person starts getting better immediately 20 minutes after quitting smoking. A person can follow these measures to quit smoking:

  • Always remember the reason for quitting smoking: if you are doing it to avoid COVID-19 infection then remember that quitting smoking would not only benefit you but would also protect your loved ones from secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
  • Since you are trying to leave a habit, you may feel the urge to smoke at times. Whenever you get that urge, try to engage in some physical activity. Since you would be at home, you can walk around or can run up and down the stairs a few times. This short burst of energetic movement can help you avoid your craving.
  • Munch on some healthy food items like sunflower seeds, raw carrots and nuts. This would keep your mouth busy.
  • You can also talk to your friends or loved ones, share some old memories, share a laugh to distract yourself from the craving.
  • You can consult your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy as it can help you deal with the withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine replacement therapy helps in delivering a controlled amount of nicotine to the smoker without the harmful components of tobacco. This therapy is available in various forms such as nicotine gum, lozenge, patch, inhaler and nasal spray. You can get these at chemist shops or medicine e-commerce platforms, which are open during the lockdown.
  • You may also indulge in yoga pranayamas and asanas which are said to curb the withdrawal symptoms of quitting smoking. You may do 5-minute breathing exercises - like pranayama - followed by 45 minutes of asanas and 10 minutes of closing postures to help in relieving stress.

Read more: How to deal with the anxiety of living through a pandemic

Dr. Neha Gupta

Dr. Neha Gupta

Infectious Disease
16 Years of Experience

Dr. Lalit Shishara

Dr. Lalit Shishara

Infectious Disease
8 Years of Experience

Dr. Alok Mishra

Dr. Alok Mishra

Infectious Disease
5 Years of Experience

Dr. Amisha Mirchandani

Dr. Amisha Mirchandani

Infectious Disease
8 Years of Experience

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RemdesivirRemdesivir Injection15000.0
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References

  1. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Q&A on smoking and COVID-19
  2. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Tobacco and waterpipe use increases the risk of suffering from COVID-19
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