The Bottom Line On Smoking & Asthma

A cigarette and an inhalerSecondhand smoke is bad for everyone’s health, but even worse for the millions of children and adults with asthma: If you have asthma, any exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to an asthma attack, and frequent exposure to cigarette smoke can make asthma symptoms even worse.

Cigarettes do not cause asthma, in the sense that people don’t become allergic to cigarette smoke but contact with cigarette smoke either by actively smoking or through secondhand exposure can trigger asthma symptoms. An asthma attack occurs when your airways become irritated and inflamed. Cigarette smoke is one item on a long list of potential asthma triggers.

Smoking and Asthma

Though many airborne pollutants can trigger an asthma attack, cigarette smoke is especially dangerous. The single most important environmental factor that can make asthma worse is tobacco smoke.

Statistics show a fivefold increase in hospitalizations among children who have asthma and live with smokers. Living in a house with a smoker — even a smoker who says that the smoking takes place outside of the home — can make it very difficult to control asthma. Keep in mind that even traces of smoke on clothing can irritate the sensitive airways of someone with asthma and can trigger an asthma attack.

In fact, close to 90 percent of children with asthma who live in a nonsmoking household can achieve good control of their asthma. The proportion drops dramatically, to only 50 percent, for children who live in homes with smokers. Likewise, adults who smoke and also have asthma may find that they are much less responsive to asthma medications that are known to be effective in asthmatics who do not smoke.

Pregnancy, Smoking, and Asthma Risk