If You Have This Common Habit, Your COVID Symptoms Will Be Worse

A new study says people who did this were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized.

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One of the most confusing aspects of COVID is the wide range of symptoms patients experience—if they have any at all, that is. While some people with the virus need to be hospitalized with breathing issues and other serious concerns, other patients have a mere cough and fever. Scientists have been working hard to determine what makes people fall on various sides of that scale, and it turns out, there are a few groups who are more at risk of developing severe illness from COVID. You've heard about the danger the virus poses to seniors and people with underlying medical conditions, but a new study has found that smoking makes you even more vulnerable to COVID. For more information on what the study found, read on, and for more on what signs mean you're really sick, know that If You Have One of These Symptoms, the CDC Says Go to the Hospital Now.

Smokers are at an increased risk for a greater number of COVID symptoms.

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The Jan. 5 study out of King's College London, published in the journal Thorax, found that smoking is associated with an increased risk of a higher number of COVID-19 symptoms. The study examined March and April data from 2.4 million people on the self-reported app ZOE COVID Symptom Study, 11 percent of whom were smokers. According to the researchers' findings, smokers were 14 percent more likely than non-smokers to develop common COVID symptoms like a fever, persistent cough, and shortness of breath. They were also 29 percent more likely to report more than five symptoms and 50 percent more likely to report more than 10 symptoms. Study co-author Mario Falchi, PhD, of King's College's School of Life Course Sciences, said in a statement: "Our results clearly show that smokers are at increased risk of suffering from a wider range of COVID-19 symptoms than non-smokers."

On top of that, the researchers suggest that "a greater number of symptoms was likely to represent more severe illness."

Internal medicine specialist Spencer Kroll, MD, PhD, who was not involved in the study, said he has seen this phenomenon in his own patients. "I have observed worsened respiratory symptoms in my patients who are smokers when they are infected with COVID-19," Knoll said. "Chest X-rays and CT scans, even in minimally symptomatic patients, often show new and sustained abnormalities." And for more on your COVID risk, find out why Lacking This Vitamin Could Put You at Risk of Severe COVID, New Study Says.

Smokers are more likely to end up in the hospital with COVID.

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The study also found that smokers are two times more likely to be hospitalized due to COVID than non-smokers, which corroborates previous research out of the Cleveland Clinic Health system in Ohio and Florida.

"We continue to see that patients who have a history of smoking cigarettes requiring hospitalization, ICU care, and mechanical ventilation," says Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, who was not involved in the study. "In addition, we continue to see that patients who smoke cigarettes have more issues long term with breathing difficulties and coughing and shortness of breath." To learn about one of the scariest long-term effects, check out The Terrifying Long COVID Symptom Doctors Are Now Warning About.

There are multiple reasons smoking puts you at risk for severe COVID.

female patient coughing doctors office
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A number of studies have found evidence that smokers are at an increased risk of severe illness due to COVID, but few have looked into why this is. A November study out of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that there are a few reasons smokers are more vulnerable to the virus. According to the study, direct cigarette smoke exposure increases the number of cells infected with COVID, and cigarette smoke reduces immune response when faced with a COVID infection.

"If you think of the airways like the high walls that protect a castle, smoking cigarettes is like creating holes in these walls," co-author of the UCLA study Brigitte Gomperts, MD, explained in a statement. "Smoking reduces the natural defenses, and that allows the virus to set in." And for more up-to-date COVID news delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Smoking could weaken your body's natural defenses against any respiratory illness.

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COVID isn't the only illness smokers are more vulnerable to. "Smoking destroys the cilia in your lungs, which are the tiny, hair-like structures that trap viruses and other foreign substances and sweep them out of your airways," said Kroll. "They're one of your body’s main defenses against infection."

Smoking also leads you to produce more mucus, causing your lungs to struggle to clear the mucus due to the damaged cilia, which compounds the illness, explained Siddiqui. "These and other effects from smoking can significantly increase a smoker's risk for acquiring respiratory infections, including pneumonia," said Siddiqui. And if you're looking to stave off COVID, know that If You Live in These States, You Can Now Get Vaccinated at Walmart.

Best Life is constantly monitoring the latest news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed. Here are the answers to your most burning questions, the ways you can stay safe and healthy, the facts you need to know, the risks you should avoid, the myths you need to ignore,and the symptoms to be aware of. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
Allie Hogan
Allie Hogan is a Brooklyn based writer currently working on her first novel. Read more
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