Nearly everyone knows that smoking causes lung cancer, but did you know that smoking causes a number of other serious lung diseases? These include chronic bronchitis and emphysema, collectively known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is the fourth largest killer of Australians and smoking is the most important risk factor for COPD.
When you inhale cigarette smoke, it bypasses the filtering action of the nose and damages the tissues of the lungs, leading to overproduction of mucus, among other things. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the airways in your lungs have become narrow and partly clogged with mucus.
People who suffer from chronic bronchitis cough more and experience breathlessness for months or even years. They are also more at risk of developing chest infections and pneumonia.
Tobacco smoke also damages the air sacs in the lungs. Over time this leads to progressive loss of lung function and a condition known as emphysema. One sign of emphysema is shortness of breath. As the disease progresses, breathing becomes a major effort and may require supplementary oxygen. Most people who smoke around 20 cigarettes per day will have some degree of emphysema.
There are about 124,000 Australians living with emphysema and 567,000 Australians have chronic bronchitis, a total of 665,000 Australians with emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis (COPD).
Compared to non-smokers, someone who has ever smoked is more than five times as likely to develop emphysema/chronic bronchitis, and current smokers are more than six times as likely to suffer from emphysema/chronic bronchitis.
Smoking causes 82% of emphysema/chronic bronchitis among males and 76% among females. However, a more recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General attributes smoking as the cause of more than 90% of deaths due to COPD.