Cough, constipation and cold or flu symptoms? How to feel better when stopping smoking.

Male who is unwell

Stopping smoking can be tough; and sometimes it’s not just psychological. Because nicotine is so powerfully addictive, you may experience physical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal too. However, with the right strategies in place, you can help improve your chances of successfully stopping smoking.1

Usually, the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal start within 24 hours of your last cigarette, and they are typically at their strongest during the first week (or the first two-to-three days for some people). But, it’s important to remember that these symptoms won’t last forever. They generally fade away, and may disappear within two-to-four weeks.1

So, what causes these symptoms? And what on earth can you do about them?

Cough… will it ever end?

Smoking causes damage to your airways. However, studies have shown that this damage is reduced by stopping smoking.2 Coughing when you first stop smoking may actually be the result of your body clearing your lungs and airways.3 

The good news is that coughing generally subsides about nine months after you stop smoking, and for some people, it may stop as soon as one month after your last cigarette.1

However, there are some things that you can do to help manage a cough. Firstly, the cheapest and easiest method may be to drink a soothing drink such as warm tea with honey or lemon. Alternatively, there are a number of over-the-counter medicines available from your local pharmacy that may help.4 Remember, it is important to speak to your doctor and/or pharmacist before taking any over-the-counter medications.

Constipation? I wasn’t expecting that!

While you may not be expecting to experience constipation as a result of stopping smoking, it can occur in some people.5 This is because the nicotine stimulates the digestive system, and it can take a while for your body to adapt to life without nicotine.6

However, like most symptoms of stopping smoking, constipation should be temporary, and it should stop after about two weeks.5

And remember, the benefits of stopping smoking (such as a reduced risk of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease) far outweigh the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.5

Cold and flu symptoms… I thought I was supposed to be getting healthier?

Firstly, the health benefits of stopping smoking are considerable,1,5 but it can sometimes feel like you’re getting sicker when you stop smoking; some people experience symptoms that mimic the common cold. These may include a sore throat, coughing, a blocked or runny nose, sneezing, chills or even a fever.7

These symptoms can be a sign of immune system changes as a result of stopping smoking.7

It is important to remember that these symptoms should be short lived; for example, a cough and sore throat may only last up to four weeks.5 And, the benefits of stopping smoking can start in less than 20 minutes after your last cigarette and continue for years.1

Other possible physical symptoms of stopping smoking

Other possible physical symptoms of stopping smoking may include craving sweet or sugary foods, dizziness, nightmares, nausea and mouth ulcers.1

While these may make stopping smoking seem harder, it is important to remember all the health benefits of stopping smoking, and that these symptoms should reduce, and stop completely, over time.1,5

What can I do to deal with these symptoms?

These physical symptoms should all pass in time, but there's no point suffering unnecessarily. Try these tips to help ease your symptoms. 

Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated (e.g. drinking warm tea with honey) may help manage cough after stopping smoking.8 Drinking plenty of water can also reduce constipation.9

Eat a healthy diet. A diet rich in fibre and fruits can help reduce constipation.9 Furthermore, a healthy, balanced diet can also boost your immune system, which may reduce your chances of feeling sick.10

Exercise. There are plenty of reasons to exercise when you stop smoking. In addition to improving your health, it can also help with cravings and some of the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.1 Exercise can also increase airflow to your lungs, which can help clear mucus from your respiratory system,11 and may help reduce constipation.9

Look after yourself. Reward yourself from time to time with the money you’ve saved from stopping smoking. Treat yourself to a nice meal, or a massage. This can help keep you motivated!1

But, if any of these symptoms continue to concern you, talk to your GP. Your GP may be able to offer advice on how to manage them and improve your chances of stopping smoking for good.1

©Pfizer 2020 Pfizer Australia Pty Limited. Pfizer Medical Information: 1800 675 229. Sydney, Australia. PP-CHM-AUS-1082, 04/2020
References: 1. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Supporting smoking cessation: A guide for health professionals. 2nd edn. East Melbourne, Vic: RACGP, 2019. 2. Willemse BW, et al. Eur Respir J 2004; 23(3): 464-76. 3. Warner DO, et al Nicotine Tob Res 2007; 9(11): 1207-12. 4. Morice AH, et al. Thorax 2006; 61(suppl 1): i1-i24. 5. West R and Shiffman S. Fast Facts: Smoking Cessation 2nd Edition. Oxford UK: Health Press Limited; 2007. 6. Mandl P, Kiss JP. Brain Res Bull 2007; 72(4-6): 194-200. 7. Ussher M, et al. Tob Control 2003; 12(1): 86-8. 8. World Health Organization (WHO). A guide for tobacco users to quit. WHO, Geneva, Switzerland, 2004. 9. Portalatin M, Winstead N. Clin Colon Rectal Surg 2012; 25(1): 12-9. 10. Wu D, et al. Front in Immunol 2019; 9(3160). 11. Fahy JV, Dickey BF. N Engl J Med 2010; 363(23): 2233-47.