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Both the flu and tobacco damage the lungs, yet many people don’t know if smoking while having the flu can make things worse. In this article, we will review if smoking with the flu can get us worse.


What is the flu?

Woman on the sofa blowing her nose, wrapped in a blanket with the flu

The flu is a very common and contagious infectious disease caused by the virus known as influenza. It is acquired through exposure to respiratory secretions (coughing, sneezing, etc.) from another infected patient directly or indirectly through previously contaminated hands. One of the characteristics of the virus is that it can mutate antigenically, which forces us to update vaccines annually.

Its importance is determined because it affects many of the population, causing winter epidemics that infect 5 to 20% of people. It increases mortality in people with previous diseases and the extreme age group of life, the most affected being those over 70 years of age.


Smoking with the Flu

Flu symptoms which may worsen when smoking with the flu


The incubation period for influenza is from eighteen to thirty hours and can last up to three days. The onset is usually abrupt, with an intense frontal headache, generalized muscle aches, and a high fever. There is also coughing or sneezing, a feeling of nasal stuffiness, runny nose, itching and stinging of the eyes, sore throat, etc.

After exposure to these secretions, the virus replicates in the cells of the respiratory tract. Flu symptoms begin after 18 to 36 hours of incubation and abruptly:

  • High fever of 39 and 40ºC continuous for three days with the characteristic of presenting a decrease with reappearance at 12 hours to disappear at 24 hours.
  • Headache.
  • Retroocular pain.
  • Major myalgias in the calves and lower back.
  • Symptoms such as cough and nasal discomfort are usually present but are less conspicuous.
  • In general, the patient is bedridden and needs to stay in bed for 3 to 5 days.

After inoculation, the viruses multiply to maximum amounts within a few days. The cells that become infected by the virus are those that cover the respiratory tract.


Tobacco smoke is inhaled through the throat, and the throat is exposed, at that time, to more than 7,000 types of chemicals. These are, therefore, the potential causes of diseases, serious and minor, that we suffer in the throat.

Smoke can irritate throat tissues, and smoke continually exposes us to that smoke and irritations. This happens for the simple reason that acrolein and formaldehyde are found in tobacco smoke, substances that are the main causes of throat irritation.

Tobacco smoke can produce changes and affect quality, generating a raspy or hoarse voice. Many times this change can be accompanied by a sore throat or constant clearing of the throat.

Finally, the dreaded and well-known cancer appears. Tobacco increases the risk of its appearance on the tongue, lips, throat, mouth, and larynx.

 Tobacco and Lungs:

Tobacco smoke particularly affects the lungs, which is where the smoke enters, producing an irritating reaction in the respiratory tract, decreased lung capacity, increased secretions in the trachea and bronchi, leading to chronic cough and habitual expectoration, especially in the mornings. Increased secretions are associated with an increased risk of bacterial and viral infections associated with chronic bronchitis. Tobacco produces respiratory diseases of different types. Tobacco acts through different mechanisms producing inflammation and lung damage.

Tobacco produces respiratory diseases of different types. Tobacco acts through different mechanisms producing inflammation and lung damage. Around 98 substances have been identified in tobacco smoke with the capacity to be toxic to the lung. The most harmful chemicals are cadmium, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, acrolein, and cyanide. The total dose of poison from each cigarette received by the lung will vary depending on the type of tobacco, the volume and number of puffs, and the anatomical characteristics of the lung that determine the distribution of gases and the deposit of particles.

Although there is less evidence than with active smoking, passive smoking has been associated with alterations in lung development, COPD, asthma, and other respiratory diseases. Maternal smoking during pregnancy, often inseparable from passive smoking in early childhood, has been associated with various lung diseases and symptoms such as the risk of wheezing, increased bronchial hyperresponsiveness, decreased lung development, and bronchitis.


Bottom Line

'NO' written in cigarettes

Now that we know how the flu and tobacco smoke affect our lungs, we can guess that smoking with the flu is not a good idea. A person who smokes while sick with the flu may get worse, and the symptoms will be more intense.

The flu causes damage to the lungs, which deteriorate as the disease develops and heals; however it could take you longer to recover if you smoke while you have the flu. Smoke damages the lungs and affects quite a few mucous membranes, one of the main reasons why smoking worsens flu symptoms.

It is best to wait for the virus to be eliminated to smoke tobacco. If you cannot wait, you can weigh in vaping since it does not affect as much as smoking a cigarette; however, we remind you that it is best not to do any practice that introduces smoke into your lungs since it will intensify the symptoms to a lesser or greater extent and it will take more days to recover.

Smoking not only intensifies symptoms and makes the flu worse, but a person who does not have the flu and is a smoker is much more likely to get sick from the condition. If you start to notice flu symptoms, the best thing you can do is go to your trusted doctor and take the correct treatment.