How Smoking Damages Cilia In Respiratory Tract

Smoking comes with its own package of ills. It has been linked with a number of diseases affecting both smokers and non-smokers. Its negative pervasive effects on our organs cannot be denied. One of the components of the body that it brings severe damage to is the cilium, the hair-like extension on certain cells.


Cilia are found on the surface of different cell types from cells in the lungs and nasal cavities to cells in the fallopian tubes. They are broadly divided into two forms: motile and non-motile. The former is meant to brush away debris, and other particles, with its swift wave-like movements in one direction.

Smoking affects the ciliated cells along the respiratory tract. Those found along the bronchi are assisted by other specialised cells that produce mucus: the mucus is released into the tract to stick to impurities and the resulting bulk is then pushed away from the lungs by the cilia. This synchronised action is interrupted in smokers. The pollutants in cigarette smoke that pervade the lungs trigger the mucus cells to release more mucus than usual to get rid of the unusually excess impurities. This, however, damages the cilia. Consequently, the impurities do not leave the respiratory tract as the more mucus accumulates, the more the cilia are unable to function properly, and the more impurities are trapped, and even coughing does not remove them.

The damage that smoking causes thus significantly increases the risk of the smoker to develop respiratory infections, and even more serious diseases like chronic bronchitis.

The condition can be exacerbated if the person persists in not giving up his bad habit. When the cilia are destroyed, other cells such as basal cells come to replace them. This excessive number of such cells might lead to cancerous growths. The tumours might then propagate from its original area to the lungs or other organs.

On the brighter side, giving up smoking can reverse the damage done to cilia in little time. They can repair themselves and grow again in around 3 days after stopping. The restored cilia will then work hard to remove the excess impurities embedded in the mucus, which may cause coughing for some time. However, if coughing continues for over 8 weeks, it is recommended to consult a medical professional.

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