January 15-20 is National Non-Smoking Week, and is the perfect time to quit a habit with both short- and long-term health concerns.

Smoking is a major cause of health problems in America. It is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with more than 480,000 deaths each year. Additionally, it is the leading cause of a number of diseases. While many people know that smoking can cause lung cancer and emphysema, they might not know of the damage it can cause to your nose and throat, too.

Tobacco definitely increases the risk of cancer of the sinuses, nose, tongue, tonsils and voice box, CEENTA Otolaryngologist S. Brett Heavner, MD, said. Also, tobacco smoke, like other types of smoke, is an irritant to the upper airway. It can cause chronic inflammation of the nose, also known as rhinitis. It may present symptoms similar to allergies, although it is not a true allergen. It may also increase the risk of getting and keeping sinus infections. In the throat, patients may develop chronic or persistent laryngitis or even polyps of the vocal folds.

Smoking can also cause your voice to become raspier over time, Dr. Heavner said. Part of that is due to smoke irritation, but part is due to chronic changes from tissue inflammation increases.

Secondhand smoke affects the health of nonsmokers, too. In particular, children of parents who smoke have a higher risk of getting ear infections and keeping fluid in their middle ears, Dr. Heavner said.

Not everyone will be affected by tobacco the same way, and some people are more at risk of tobacco-related diseases than others, Dr. Heavner said. The reasons are not known, but there is likely a genetic cause that increases or decreases a person’s sensitivity to tobacco smoke.

While smoking may be very damaging medically, there are many advantages to quitting, Dr. Heavner said. The effects of chronic rhinitis go away soon after stopping. In some cases, like with “smoker’s polyps” of the voice box, quitting smoking may lead to a complete resolution of the problem. The negative risks of cancer, meanwhile, may remain for a few years before they go away.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your physician. Dr. Heavner practices in our Steele Creek office. To make an appointment with him or any of our ear, nose, and throat doctors, call 704-295-3000.


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