No, this isn't a smoker's cough, its a nonsmoker's cough!
February 24, 2011 12:34 PM   Subscribe

Quitting smoking filter: Of all the things I expected, this horrible scratch in my throat is seriously bumming me out. How can I fix it? How long might this last?

I 31 and smoked a couple of packs a day for oh, um almost a decade. I stopped cold turkey last Sunday, yay its been over a week. I've been dealing ok with my urge to rip people's eyeballs out and the starting to anticipate lunch at 10:30 parts, but my throat, jesus.

It feels like there is a hair, a particularly scratchy, evil hair, in my throat constantly, or like there is a little hole back there. Its just constant ineffective throat clearing and some pretty intense coughing at night. I've been drinking water, drinking hot tea w/ honey, sucking on cough drops or peppermints and nothing touches it. I've even lost my voice at this point. It is the start of allergy season and I had a cold a couple of weeks ago that may not have fully resolvwed.

My deepest fear is that somehow the week I quit smoking I finally got some horrible fatal something and will now drop dead. Is there a trick to soothe this? How long will the coughing/clearing last?
posted by stormygrey to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get some cough drops. And some chloroseptic spray. Wait it out. I don't think it's related to quitting smoking, but most people stop by a doctor if they have a cough that lasts longer than a couple weeks. In any event, smoking again would definitely not help a cough, no matter how you might spin it.

You're doing yourself a huge favor by quitting smoking! Keep it up. :)
posted by citywolf at 12:36 PM on February 24, 2011

Yes to seeing your doctor - but fwiw, whejn you quit smoking the your mouth and throat start to heal. I recall distinctly having to clear my throat a million times and losing my voice, as you said, after I quit. Some of that is a product of your lungs clearing - some is sensitivity and healing.
posted by marimeko at 12:44 PM on February 24, 2011

I quit cold turkey 56 days ago after smoking for 25 years.

On Dec 31st, I suffered a mild stroke and was rushed to the hospital. Had I known that this would have been the day I had my last cigarette evah, I would have smoked an entire pack that day. (I recently moaned to a friend, "But I didn't have that last FUCK YOU cigarette!")... but I digress.

Spending the next 10 days in and out of the hospitals while I went cold-turkey alleviated some of the worst symptoms, but like you, I had the scratchy dry throat that still hasn't quite gone away. The good news is that it is definitely happening less and less often. I carry a bag of sugar-free throat lozenges that taste really good to me, and pop them into my mouth whenever I have a craving or that little dry cough.

Hang in there. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel in a few weeks. It's worth it. MeMail if you need encouragement!
posted by HeyAllie at 12:49 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It is definitely related to quitting smoking. I remember coughing for about a month after I quit, and I've read that it's a common symptom of quitting.

It sucked, but in comparison to the other quitting symptoms, it wasn't that bad. Definitely don't fret about it.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 12:51 PM on February 24, 2011

I suspect this is a byproduct of your cilia growing back. This quickie article supports that. See your doctor if it persists, but don't worry about it now, and congratulations! (I quit two months ago.)
posted by not_on_display at 1:01 PM on February 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

This has happened to me even when I've cut back (from a cigarette or three a day from a pack), so I'm not surprised that it would happen if you went from what you were smoking to quitting cold turkey.

I've been told -- and there's pages on the Internet that support it -- that the cause of the coughing is actually your body repairing itself. I've never heard it from a doctor (and can't vouch for that page) but hopefully knowing that the cough is actually, in a roundabout way, a great thing to have might make it easier.

As far as curing it, get stronger/different cough drops. I don't know why but certain coughs, for me, respond to different drops.

Good luck and congrats so far.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:03 PM on February 24, 2011

N'thing it's related to the smoking. I quit cold turkey 12/29 with 1/2 pack a day for 7 years. I had the same thing for about three weeks. It was annoying, but only 1/100th as annoying as the cravings.

Keep going. It's a real bitch getting through it, but keep going.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 1:05 PM on February 24, 2011

As I said here in a previous thread, everything's just starting to figure out how to work again without smoking. nth'ing the regrowing of cilia.

It has been 125 weeks, 3 days, 15 hours, 1 minutes and 38 seconds since I quit cold turkey according to If I had one in front of me, I'd still be quite tempted smoke it right now.

The first three weeks or so were probably the toughest. You'll adjust to not having smoke breaks. The cravings will subside but not totally go away (I still get in a car and crack the window to light up to this day) Try not to fill stuffing your face with a cigarette with stuffing your face with food, even though that is hard to do.
posted by hobu at 1:27 PM on February 24, 2011

Congratulations -- you're regaining sensation in your throat!

When you smoke, at least at first, all the nerve endings in your throat send distress signals to your brain indicating that they're being subjected to something noxious. After a little bit, though, the thresh-hold for the transmission of these signals is raised, much the same way that you stop being able to smell a strong odor after being exposed to it for a while. Being able to block out bad sensations after they've done their job and alerted us is an evolutionarily advantageous ability.

Now that you're not smoking, you're now perceiving sensations from your throat again, and it feels weird and unpleasant. It should go away in another week or so. Until then, there's not a ton you can do that you're not trying already. Get some pectin-only cough drops that you can use as much as you want, in addition to the mentholated ones which you shouldn't OD on.

Oh, and take ibuprofen or aspirin every four hours (with plenty of water) -- it'll help more than you think, especially if you can stay ahead of the discomfort.
posted by patnasty at 1:47 PM on February 24, 2011

If you haven't read Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking, you owe yourself the pleasure of reading it.

You may wonder what the need is for since you've already stopped, but it doesn't sound like you've enjoyed stopping yet. Once your mind is able to start focusing on the pleasure of not smoking, the physical symptoms like the itch in your throat will subside substantially. Speaking from experience here, for the record.
posted by fantasticninety at 2:04 PM on February 24, 2011

Welcome your cilia back. They will, after some recovery, seriously reduce the number of coughs and colds you have to endure. For now, however, you need to give them some time to recover, and then they will start on dredging sludge from your lungs, which also won't be entirely pleasant.

I know you've said you're drinking tea, but that's still my recommendation. Hot black tea worked (well, worked best) for me.
posted by pompomtom at 2:08 PM on February 24, 2011

(oh, and congratulations. Stick to it!)
posted by pompomtom at 2:09 PM on February 24, 2011

Please feel free to drink lots and lots of mint tea. Inhale as much mint steam from the tea as you can. It really helps (is that the kind of tea you've been drinking?). Also, water with cucumber, lemon, and mint helps quite a lot. Bonus: eat carrots galore...they helped me, too.

You are awesome! Keep it up! So totally worth it. It will be awful for awhile, but it will get better soon.
posted by 200burritos at 3:35 PM on February 24, 2011

My throat discomfort manifested as a tightening rather than a scratchiness -- like there was an invisible hand around it -- just maddening! Plus my horrific smoker's hack got even worse. For me, these symptoms faded pretty quickly. The throat-sensation was gone within a week or two, and I attributed it to just sheer intense craving at the time. The cough took longer, and others here have mentioned the healing process, so I'll just share that while it sounded (and felt) like I was going to eject a lung at first, it tapered quickly to just an ongoing-but-annoying process of clearing out the gook, and one day I noticed I wasn't coughing at all anymore. So yeah, that took awhile but eventually I stopped wheezing and can take full breaths and don't hack up wads of junk and just generally enjoy my relationship with air a lot more.

All the weird physical things and the super-emotional rollercoaster ride, while all-consuming at the moment, will change in short order. You're at the beginning, you're in withdrawal, your system is freaking out -- all normal at the beginning. It fades quickly!

I also quit cold turkey, over five years ago, after 25 years of pack-a-day. Believe me, this is the worst of it and while quitting isn't an easy process things will get better. Stick with it, you will be SO glad you did.
posted by wallabear at 3:52 PM on February 24, 2011

WHen I quit I get the tickle/cough. If I stay not-smoking long enough, it goes away after a few weeks. But man is it annoying.

Good luck!
posted by J. Wilson at 4:08 PM on February 24, 2011

Honey is a nature throat soother. Try taking a teaspoon of straight honey, which should coat your throat. Best of luck!
posted by _cakes at 4:17 PM on February 24, 2011

Stormy, I'm in the same boat as you, but a few weeks ahead. 32 days and counting.

For the first 3 weeks or so I had the same problem -- horrible tickle, constant throat-clearing, coughing. I tried teas, drops, chloraseptic, cough syrups ... they helped a little, but not as much as I had hoped.

About 10 days ago, I realized the symptoms were fading ... now they're pretty much gone.

Hang in there. It's worth it!!
posted by jrchaplin at 8:13 PM on February 25, 2011

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