How to Know If You Have Quitter's or Smoker's Flu

Smokers can feel flu-like symptoms when they stop smoking

A woman laying in bed with the flu
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Quitter's flu, also called smoker's flu, is a slang term used to describe the flu-like symptoms that nicotine withdrawal can sometimes produce. Is important to note that smoker's flu is not an infectious sickness. It refers only to the physical sensations experienced while detoxing from nicotine and the chemicals in tobacco that can mimic illness.

Most smokers who have quit are probably familiar with the physical reactions their bodies can have because of smoking cessation.

Symptoms of Withdrawal From Nicotine

You may experience any of these symptoms:

  • Cravings to smoke
  • Irritability, crankiness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • A headache
  • A cough
  • A sore throat
  • Constipation, gas, stomach pain
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore tongue or gums
  • Postnasal drip
  • Tightness in the chest
Nicotine Withdrawal Symptoms and Coping

How to Distinguish Between the Flu or Nicotine Withdrawal

As you can see, most of the discomforts new ex-smokers feel could also be symptoms of a cold or the flu, so it can be hard to know whether you're sick or not. That said, fever is not usually a sign of nicotine withdrawal.

If you are running a fever with or without any of the irritations above, you might be sick. Call your doctor if it persists.

Are You Using a Quit Smoking Aid? 

If so, some of the symptoms listed above might be eliminated or lessened. For instance, nearly all quit aids reduce nicotine cravings to some extent. While you will still miss smoking, the physical sensations of nicotine withdrawal won't be as intense as they might normally be.

If you quit cold turkey, which is to say, without the use of any quit aid, you can expect that the symptoms you experience will be very strong for the first few days while your body is eliminating any residual nicotine.

When Did the Symptoms Start? 

Think about when you started feeling bad. If it coincides with when you quit smoking, it's probably nicotine withdrawal. If the symptoms you're experiencing don't improve within a few days, or you are concerned about them, call your healthcare provider and go in for a check-up.

How to Ease the Discomfort of Smoker's Flu

Here are several tips for helping to ease the discomfort you're feeling.

Distraction

Distraction is one of the best tools at your disposal while moving through early smoking cessation. The mind can easily get stuck on a negative track, which only makes the physical irritations you feel worse.

Jolt yourself out of a bad mindset or craving to smoke by quickly changing your activity for a few minutes. It can be as simple as getting up to pour a glass of water, or taking a few deep breaths.

Exercise

Exercise beats back cravings to smoke and improves your mood by releasing endorphins in your brain. If you exercise regularly, just keep doing the activities you enjoy most. If you're not used to exercising, check in with your doctor, especially if you have health issues that could be affected.

Once you get the green light, start slow. A simple walk around the block is enough to help with withdrawal symptoms. You'll probably find you love the way it makes you feel.

Eat a Healthy Diet 

The fuel you give your body during nicotine withdrawal will either help to reduce the symptoms you're experiencing or make you feel worse. Think about how your body reacts to food under normal circumstances.

Eating lots of junk food and not much in the way of healthy food can lead to blood sugar spikes and crashes, leaving you feeling wired or tired as you go through your day. Eating foods that keep your body in balance will provide you with the best possible energy as you detoxify from cigarettes.

That said, if you don't indulge at all, it could make the urge to smoke stronger. It's fine to snack, just make sure you don't go overboard. Try to limit the less healthy foods you eat by using the 80/20 rule. Reserve 80 percent of your daily calories for the good stuff and the other 20 percent can be used for treats.

Get Enough Rest

Your body is working hard to rid itself of toxins and physical addiction to nicotine. Give yourself permission to go to bed earlier and take a nap when you need it. Your energy will return in time, not to worry.

Smoking Can Increase Your Flu and Pneumonia Risk

While your symptoms may be due to nicotine withdrawal, keep in mind that being a smoker greatly increases your risk of influenza, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases.

Be sure to see your doctor if you have a fever. Know that you are reducing your risks by quitting smoking.

A Word from Verywell 

For most smokers, quitting tobacco will produce one or several symptoms of withdrawal from nicotine and the other chemicals you've been inhaling multiple times a day for years.

It can feel overwhelming, especially when the mind joins in and tries to convince you that you need to smoke. Know that nicotine withdrawal is a temporary condition. All of the discomforts you endure are indications that your body is healing from nicotine addiction. Better days are coming soon.

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