How can Smoking affect the Cells of my Airway?
Beyond that, smoking causes oxidative stresses upon those cells, the buildup of toxins within those cells, damage to the epithelial cells lining the respiratory tract, and even cell death. When looking at the combination of these ailments as a whole, it quickly becomes clear that smoking has a profoundly negative effect on the cells of the respiratory tract.
Normal cells of the respiratory tract are varied. However variable they may be, each play an individual and important role in the respiratory system as a whole. Smoking can cause changes in the types of cells that are found in the respiratory tract and can lead to changes in the way the system as a whole functions. The majority of cells found in the respiratory tract and upper airways are referred to as ciliated pseudo-stratified columnar epithelium. This means that they are partially stratified (layered) and they are shaped like columns.
The three major cell types that comprise this epithelium are ciliated cells, goblet cells (to produce mucus), and basal cells. All of these cells are highly specialized for their functionality in the respiratory airway. Smoking can cause some of these cells to either function incorrectly, or disappear entirely, leading to the ciliated pseudo-stratified columnar epithelium changing to a different type of epithelium (such as stratified squamous epithelium, which is better suited to a high turnover rate of cells).
Over long periods of continual exposure, compounds that are found in smoke (such as cyanide or carbon monoxide) can cause pulmonary damage and a profound loss of elasticity in alveoli. Alveoli are the primary site for gas exchange in the body and need elasticity in order to expand and contract during that gas exchange. With a reduced elasticity, these alveolar sacs are not able to function as well and the overall capacity of the lungs to perform their job is reduced. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a permanent and incurable illness that is characterized by reduced pulmonary capacity and can lead to problems such as cough, increased mucus production, lung damage, and shortness of breath.
In addition, the ability for the immune system to function properly is severely inhibited in those who smoke cigarettes (source:www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Within the lungs and respiratory airway, macrophages are responsible for cleaning up damaged cells and pathogens as well as a variety of other functions. In heavy smokers, these macrophages become overwhelmed by all of the carbon deposits and oxidants that are present in the smoke and in the cells of the airway. Due to this overwhelming workload, their ability to perform their regular immunological functions are inhibited to the degree that infections of the airway become much more likely.
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, but many people are not exactly sure why. The problem with smoking is that it can change the normal balance of cellular function and metabolism in the respiratory tract and lead to serious issues with its functionality. The increase in cellular death rate that is associated with the inhalation of smoke can eventually cause the normal ciliated pseudo-stratified columnar epithelium to change to a stratified squamous epithelium in order to better facilitate the sloughing off of dead or dying cells.
In addition, the pulmonary capacity of the lungs can be decreased due to changes in the elasticity of the alveolar sacs that are used by the lungs for gas exchange. Finally, changes in the cellular makeup of the lungs and respiratory tract can overwhelm the normal immune function of the lungs and lead to an increased risk of infections.
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Written by : Alexander Maness, United States (M.S. in Biotechnology )
Edited by: Rajesh Bihani ( Find me on Google+ )