Beyond the Lungs: How Smoking Disturbs Wound Healing

Beyond the Lungs:
How Smoking Disturbs Wound Healing

As a smoker, you hear a lot about how bad smoking is for your heart and your lungs, because it causes heart and lung disease. Many people do not think these diseases can happen to them, even if they smoke. Both health problems will have a big impact on your quality of life. Many smokers know that smoking can age the skin and cause permanent spots and wrinkles. More importantly, did you know that if you have a wound, there are many ways that smoking stops it from healing?

Nicotine and Blood

People become hooked on the nicotine that is in the tobacco in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. Nicotine causes your arteries to spasm and become narrow. When an artery that sends blood to your skin is narrow, it is not able to bring blood and nutrients to a wound. Without blood and nutrients, your wound will not get the things it needs to heal.

Smoking and Immune Function

A healthy immune system is needed to help your body fight illness and infection, especially when you have a wound. Smoking is very good at harming your system. As a result of smoking, the cells and antibodies that protect your body and wound against bad bacteria become weak which makes it easier for your wound to become infected. An infected wound is hard to heal and may last many months or years.

Medicines used to get rid of the infection will not make it to your wound if your blood flow is not good.

Smoking and Nutrients

Vitamin C is a vital vitamin for healthy skin and blood flow. In smokers, Vitamin C levels are lower because the body uses Vitamin C to fight the harm that smoking causes. When you smoke, you will not have the needed amount of Vitamin C to support blood flow and skin health. Studies have shown that even smokers who take high doses of Vitamin C in pills or shots still have low levels of the vitamin in their bodies.

What if you stop smoking?

Did you know that if you stop smoking, your body will start to recover from the harmful effects within about 20 minutes? Think about the effects if you stop smoking for just 24 hours!?! Each positive benefit will help your wound to heal.quit-smoking

20 minutes without smoking

o   Heart rate and blood pressure drops
o   Temperature of your hands and feet increase
o   Benefit: improved blood flow to bring nutrients to wounds on hands and feet

8 hours without smoking

o   Oxygen level in blood becomes normal
o   Benefit: Cells need oxygen to grow and help to heal your wound. As oxygen levels return to normal, your wound will improve.

24 hours without smoking

o   Nerve endings start to recover
o   Benefit: you will be better able to sense pressure and temperature on the skin of your foot, preventing injury to the skin in the first place.

2 weeks to 3 months without smoking

o   Blood flow improves and walking becomes easier
o   Benefit: better blood flow means that more blood, oxygen, drugs, and nutrients will make it to your wound to help it heal. Walking, when it becomes easier, is a great form of exercise to lower blood sugar and body weight. High blood sugar and high body weight make it harder for wounds to heal.

Stop Smoking Resources

Ask your health worker about programs that will help you to stop smoking. You do not have to do it alone; people with support are more likely to quit for good. You can also get more information at:

·         US Department of Health: Surgeon General “Quit Now” 1-800-784-8669
·         US Department of Health & Human Services:
·         American Lung Association Helpline: 1-800-LUNGUSA


1.      Gariballa S, Forster S. Effects of smoking on nutrition status and response to dietary supplements during acute illness. Nutr Clin Pract. 2009 Feb Mar;24(1):84-90.
2.      Lane CA, Selleck C, Chen Y, Tang Y. The Impact of Smoking and Smoking Cessation on Wound Healing in Spinal Cord-Injured Patients With Pressure Injuries: A Retrospective Comparison Cohort Study. J Wound Ostomy Continence Nurs. 2016 Sep-Oct;43(5):483-7.

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