Quit smoking to manage your asthma better

Smoking is bad for everyone's health. Quitting smoking is a big step towards effectively managing your asthma.

Smoking, or being around other people smoking, can lead to asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack.

Giving up smoking is vital if you want to manage your asthma well and lower your risk of an asthma attack. If you have a child with asthma, being in a smoke-free environment will make a big difference to how they manage their asthma symptoms.

On this page:

Why giving up smoking is good for your asthma

You'll notice fewer asthma symptoms

  • A couple of days after giving up smoking your lungs will start to clear out. Some people with asthma do notice asthma symptoms are worse when they first give up smoking - but try not to let this put you off. Get support from your GP or asthma nurse while you're giving up so that you can stay on top of any symptoms while sticking to your stop smoking plan.
  • After about three days breathing becomes easier as the airways begin to relax.
  • After three to nine months lung function increases by up to 10 per cent which means less breathlessness and coughing and more energy to do the things you want to do.

Once your lungs are less irritated by the smoke, and free of the chemicals from smoking, your preventer medicines will work better too which means you'll manage your asthma a lot more easily. You'll also probably find you don't need to use your reliever inhaler because your symptoms aren't flaring up as much any more.

Your risk of an asthma attack goes down

Smoking is a risk factor for poor asthma control and asthma attack. Once you've successfully given up smoking you cut your risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

Children with asthma who have parents or other family members who smoke are at much greater risk of wheezing, coughing and asthma attacks. So quitting smoking is a vital step in not only managing your own asthma, but making sure your child with asthma stays safe and well.

You'll notice the difference at your asthma review

When you go for your annual asthma review it's likely that you and your GP or asthma nurse will notice the difference to your asthma now that you've given up smoking. It might be good to talk about how your asthma was at your last review and how it is now so you can really see any benefits.

Your peak flow score might have improved, showing that your airways are less irritated and tight than they were when you smoked.

Make sure you're using a written asthma action plan and that this gets updated now that you're an ex-smoker - your GP or asthma nurse may decide to put you on a lower dose of preventer medicine now that your asthma symptoms are more in control.

Smoking: the risks

Most people are well aware of the dangers of smoking: Half of all lifelong smokers die prematurely. Smoking, whether it's cigarettes, cigars, pipes or roll-ups (hand rolled cigarettes), is a high-risk life choice, particularly for someone with asthma. Smoking shisha pipes carries the same risks, and in fact the amount of shisha smoke inhaled during a typical hour-long session is far more than 100 cigarettes.

More asthma symptoms - more risk of an asthma attack

If you smoke, or if you're around someone else smoking, managing your asthma is going to be a lot harder for you. Even if you're using a written asthma action plan and taking all your asthma medicines as prescribed, you'll be more at risk of symptoms and asthma attacks. This is because one of the risks of smoking is that the chemicals in cigarettes irritate and inflame the airways and lungs. This means you'll get more symptoms and need higher doses of your asthma preventer medicine to keep on top of them.

If you continue to smoke, and have asthma thats not well managed, you'll be at risk of other lung conditions in addition to your asthma such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Even if you don't go on to develop other lung conditions your lung function is likely to get worse if you smoke.

Higher doses of your usual asthma medicines

If you smoke you're likely to need higher doses of preventer medicine to control your symptoms. This is because smoking stops your asthma medicines doing their job properly.

If you're exposed to tobacco smoke on a regular basis, either because you smoke yourself, or because you're around smokers, you're likely to need more reliever medicines too because you'll be having more symptoms. Whether you're a smoker or not, if you're taking your reliever inhaler or having symptoms three times a week or more, it's a sign that your asthma is not in good control.

"I put the money I saved in a jar and kept a picture of a loved one in the pocket of the coat where I used to keep my cigarettes"

Smoking when you're pregnant

If you smoke while you're pregnant, one of the things it can affect is the development of your baby's lungs - your baby's lungs won't work as well as they should and they'll be more likely to have wheeze or cough that won't go away.

Smoking during pregnancy puts your baby at higher risk of developing asthma or other breathing problems. It also increases the risk of a baby being born too early - which means their lungs won't be fully developed and they'll be more at risk of wheeze in childhood.

Smoking around your child

If you smoke, you're putting your child at risk: being exposed to tobacco smoke will make your child's asthma symptoms worse - they'll be more likely to cough and wheeze, and may not sleep well.

Even if your child doesn't have asthma, being around parents, grandparents or other family members who smoke increases their risk of developing childhood wheeze.

If children are living with people who smoke they'll be three times more likely to start smoking themselves than children in smoke-free homes. Make sure your child understands the risks to their asthma from smoking. If they do start smoking as a child or adolescent they're increasing the risk of asthma symptoms continuing into adulthood.

There's also evidence to suggest that teenagers who start smoking double their risk of developing asthma.

Are e-cigarettes safer than cigarettes for people with asthma?

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that release doses of vaporised nicotine for the user to inhale.

A recent review of the evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than tobacco over the short-term, both for those who smoke them, and those who are around people who smoke them, but very little research has been done so far looking at the effects on non-smokers with asthma.

There's also some evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes may help some people reduce the amount that they smoke

E-cigarettes are not completely risk-free. Asthma UK advises that people with asthma avoid inhaling anything into their lungs which may be harmful, as it could make their asthma worse - especially since there aren't many rules about what additives can be used to flavour the vapour. If you do vape, or use e-cigarettes, we recommend not using flavourings to lessen the risk of an allergic reaction. 

We don't know their long-term effects on people both with and without asthma and we don't believe they should be available to children because the risks are still unknown.

This is an issue where more evidence is emerging all the time. Until we know more, it is up to each person with asthma to decide whether they are comfortable with the unknown long-term risks of e-cigarettes in contrast to the well-known health risks of smoking tobacco products.

Ready to quit? Try these tips to get you started

  • Change your daily habits
    Before you even start to try to quit, keep a diary - knowing the situations that make you want to light up will help you plan how you can avoid them, and think about how you can avoid being tempted in those situations. Research shows that being in an environment that makes you think of smoking can trigger cravings. Changing your routine or environment may help you avoid urges to smoke. So if, for examples, you always smoked at the kitchen table after dinner, you could try eating in a different room. If you smoked while walking to the bus stop on the way to work, taking a different route may help break the routine.
  • Make a list
    Stay motivated to keep off the cigarettes by listing all the reasons why you want to stop smoking. It could be that you want to get on with your life without asthma symptoms holding you back. Perhaps you have plans for the money you'll save when you stop buying cigarettes. Keep your list somewhere you can see it every day, or in places where you usually smoke. Look at your list every time you're tempted to smoke and remind yourself why you want to give up.
  • Find out about stop smoking treatments
    Using stop smoking treatments doubles your chances of successfully giving up smoking, and there's a range of treatments to help reduce your craving to smoke. Talk to your pharmacist or GP or asthma nurse about what's available.
  • Check out stop smoking support
    Remember there are people to help. Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist can support and advise you about how to get started on your stop smoking plan and put you in touch with local NHS Stop Smoking Services. You're much more likely to give up and stay away from smoking if you have support.
  • Set a date and stick to it
    Set a date for when you want to stub out your last cigarette; throw away lighters, ashtrays and all cigarettes and start thinking of yourself as an ex-smoker.
"Write a list of all the reasons why you gave up. If you’re giving up for your (grand)children, put a photo of them where you used to keep your cigarettes."

It's not easy - but keep going

Even when you're fully aware of the dangers of smoking, it's not always easy to quit. As well as a range of toxic chemicals, cigarettes contain nicotine which is very addictive. Giving up any addictive drug needs commitment and support. It's not impossible though and lots of people manage to stop smoking every day.

Tried and failed?

It's very common for people who try to give up smoking to make several attempts to stop before they stop for good.

If you've tried stopping and haven't been successful, try not to see it as a failure - think about what didn't help you, and what you can do to make the next attempt work. Take another look at your list of reasons to give up. Don't forget to ask for support from friends and family too.

Get help from local NHS stop smoking support to increase your chances of quitting successfully. Evidence shows using stop smoking treatments doubles your chances of successfully giving up smoking.

Think it's making your asthma worse, not better?

Asthma symptoms can sometimes get worse before they get better when you first give up smoking. This is because your lungs have started to work properly again and are clearing themselves out.

If you've just given up smoking and notice more asthma symptoms, see your GP or asthma nurse for a review. They may prescribe a short course of oral steroids (prednisolone) or other asthma medicines for a short time to help keep your symptoms under control.

Use a written asthma action plan to help you manage your asthma symptoms while you're giving up smoking. Don't forget to update your action plan once you've successfully given up.

Notice real improvements to your asthma

Quitting isn't easy, but if you have asthma, it's one of the best things you can do to improve your health and well-being. Keep in mind the long-term benefits of giving up - fewer asthma symptoms, better quality of life, better health, and healthier children. Before long you'll start to feel and notice real improvements to your health from giving up smoking. 

"A few years back, I had a party, I allowed people to smoke in my house. Two hours later I was in A&E because the cigarette smoke triggered a really bad asthma attack."

NHS Smokefree



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Last updated November 2016

Next review due November 2019