After a spinal cord injury, taking care of your skin and protecting it from the possibility of pressure injuries will become one of your most important tasks. If you are a smoker, then you need to be even more aware of your skin’s conditions. With or without an SCI, smoking can be harmful to your health. With an SCI; however, smoking can cause some serious problems for your skin.
When you smoke, your blood vessels constrict (get smaller) due to the nicotine in cigarettes and prohibit blood, nutrients, and oxygen from reaching body tissues.
Areas of your body that are not moved or used frequently (hands, feet, legs) are susceptible to edema, swelling caused by fluid collecting in the tissues. For those with a spinal cord injury, this can be especially troublesome as it makes affected areas of the skin thin, pale, and poorly circulated, creating ideal conditions for a pressure injury.
Frequently elevating your hands and legs can help prevent edema. Using compression stockings and performing Range of Motion exercises can also be helpful.
Smoking can deplete the red blood cells in your body causing anemia. Anemia means that you have less red blood cells to carry oxygen to different areas of your body, including your skin. This causes skin cells to die or become unhealthy, creating more potential for pressure injuries.
Smoking, among other factors, can lead to a narrowing of the blood vessels known as vascular disease. Decreased blood flow to the skin caused by vascular disease can result in skin problems.
Source: sci.washington.edu, Accessed: 6/19/17