Discover why smoking and the flu don’t mix
If you’re a smoker, take heed. You can catch the flu more easily than non-smokers (1). Smoking also weakens your body’s ability to fight off the flu (1). Here’s why.
Smoking and your lungs
Each time you puff on a cigarette, the tobacco smoke you inhale contains a mix of more than 7,000 chemicals (2). When you breathe these in, they hit your lungs very quickly. They can damage your lungs and cause conditions like Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) (1).
After breathing in these chemicals, your blood then carries them to the rest of your body (2). Take, for instance, the carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke (2). This poisonous gas (3) displaces the oxygen in your blood, depriving your organs of the oxygen they need (2).
Smoking and your immune system
Those 7,000 chemical compounds in tobacco smoke can also interfere with your immune system (4). And when smoking harms your immune system, it can make your body less successful at fighting disease (4).
Your body is less able to protect itself from diseases and infections(4). Everything from cold and flu viruses to arthritis and cancer will find it easier to progress when your immune system is not working effectively (2).
At greater risk of catching the flu
There’s also a link between smoking cigarettes and a higher risk of catching the flu. One study found smokers had a 60% risk of catching the flu when non-smokers’ risk was only just over 40% (5). Another found just over 30% of flu cases to be attributable to smoking (5). And a third study found smokers could be as much as five times more likely to develop the flu (6).
What’s more, the first study also found that smokers are also more susceptible to catching the flu again. Why? Because their antibodies wane more rapidly (5).
At greater risk from the flu
Flu infections can be more severe for smokers (5). Smokers produce more phlegm, cough more and experience more breathlessness and wheezing than non-smokers (5). And if you have a condition like COPD, catching the flu can make it much worse (1).
Research has also shown that smokers are more likely to suffer complications with the flu. One study showed a marked 44% increase in complications for smokers compared with non-smokers (5). Compared with people who have never smoked, smokers could be 1.5 times more likely to be admitted to the hospital after catching the flu (7). Worse still, they could be 2.2 times more likely to be admitted to intensive care (7).
So why does this happen? In addition to weakening the body’s ability to fight off the flu (1), researchers believe smokers’ immune systems may overreact to the flu virus (8). They found that exposing immune systems to tobacco smoke not only makes them defective but also hyperactive (8).
Protect yourself from the flu. Get a flu vaccine. You need that protection. Why? Because you’re more at risk of catching the flu and of severe illness with the flu (1).
(7) https://journals.lww.com/epidem/Abstract/2019/05000/ Smoking_and_Influenza_associated_Morbidity_and.15.aspx
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