How long does it take for an ex-smoker's lungs to "heal"?

I have heard that after two months, a smoker’s lungs will have completely healed, lacking all tell-tale signs that they were ever a nicotine-crazed fiend. I am sure that it would vary among ex-smokers, depending upon their intake, the length of their addiction, and their body type. Is there some sort of average length of time it takes for the tar and other bi-products to be purged from the body, the lungs especially?

Hmm, I thought I remembered that when I was in middle school the Lungmobile ™ told us that it takes about seven years for the lungs to clean themselves of all the tar and goop from smoking. When I was still a smoker, I pointed this out to a biologist friend of mine, arguing that since I was still young I could quit after a few years and have nice pink lungs before I got too old. She pointed out that any cancerous mutations would still remain. Thanks, Shelly.

The American Cancer Society says

Oh, and further down the page they say

So I guess it depends on what you mean by saying the lungs are “completely healed”–contaminants gone, or tissue itself returned to normal health? Two months seems optimistic even for the first, given that the cilia may not yet have recovered their normal function.

IANAD, of course.


My understanding is it isn’t the lungs being healed it is the risk factor.

After seven years your risk of getting lung cancer is similar to that of non smokers.

The damage is done.

I am curious to that comment…I am 17 days from my quit date and with a comment like that you kind of imply that the damage is done is done…and in the mind of a soon to quit smoker I am now thinking “Why bother?”

Please tell me that the damage that I have done to my body for 18 years will not be permanent (unless I already have cancerous cells lurking about or those beginning to form.)

As much as I’d like to say that complete “healing” occurs when you stop smoking, I don’t think it’s the case.

IIRC, the risk of lung cancer plateaus at fifteen years after quitting, but forever remains higher than those who’ve never smoked.

The risk of coronary disease and other forms of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) among ex-smokers does approach that of the never-smoked relatively quickly - in about two to three years.

The rate of progression of chronic obstructive lung disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) is slowed by smoking cessation, but once it is established the disease may progress relentlessly even in the absence of continued smoking.

[sup][sub]Former two pack a day man speaking[/sub][/sup]

Lung capacity deteriorates with age. Eventually it deteriorates so far that the lungs cannot support life. Fortunately for most people, this deterioration does not occur at such a rate as to happen during most people’s lifetimes. But if people lived to be 130, their lungs would tend to crap out on them, despite clean living.

Smokers have (on the average) a faster rate of lung deterioration; that’s one reason why you see so many of them suffering from emphysema in their 50’s and 60’s. The average 40 year old who has over 20 pack/years of smoking history will have more loss of lung capacity than the 40 year old who never smoked.

The bad news for smokers: stopping will not regain that lost capacity.

The good news for smokers: The rate of deterioration of the lungs will slow down, and eventually look like the rate of deterioration of non-smokers. So an ex-smokers lungs could serve him until age 80, whereas they’d have crapped out by 63 if he hadn’t stopped smoking. If he’d never started perhaps they’d have carried him to age 100.

This looks only at the rate of loss of lung capacity. Other factors like the cancer risk, risk to arteries and heart, etc. are not factored into this equation.

Hope that helps clarify.

Qadgop, MD

I would like to think that I am all better now, but I am a realistic and know that 5 years of smoking 1-1/2 to 2 packs a day had to do some damage. I don’t think I have the same odds as a non-smoker (or person that never smoked) but I sure hope I do…

Hey KarlGauss, I simulposted with my favorite endocrinologist! How ya doin? BTW, panhypopit lady has a tumor, neurosurgery is taking the watch and wait approach.

When you want the straight dope on smoking cessation, go to the experts: The American Lung Association published the definitive report on The Benefits of Quitting Smoking

But there must be plenty of variations from the norm? [sub]I hope.[/sub] I smoked for 23 years, but also am able to run a 10K without practicing, have always been active, never overweight, eat very well, etc. I only smoked handrolled cigs. I never get colds (well OK three colds since 1979)…

Am in pathetic denial, or am I really more likely to die than someone who has lousy genes, eats a crappy diet, watches TV all day, and has no social support system?

It could be that one year after you smoke your last cigarette you end up falling under the wheels of a bus. What do you say to THAT?

We speak of averages here. YMMV. The average smoker has more lung problems and dies sooner than the average nonsmoker. Does that condemn you to an unpleasant death gasping for air as you try and fail to clear your secretions? Certainly not! It raises the odds of expiring that way, but is by no means a certainty. Individual variations and constitutional factors come into play on this level.

But if you want to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible for a longer life, ditch the tobacco. And watch out for that bus!

Well I quit in February & am NOT happy about it. :stuck_out_tongue:

Oh yeah…[sub]I forgot to mention[/sub]** I have pulmonary eosinophilic granuloma, confirmed by a lung biopsy Feb 1999. So rare that it got the docs at National Jewish all atwitter because they had never seen this. And interestingly no causal link established between EG & smoking. ha.

** Yeah OK, Denial is not just an river in Egypt.