The Bottom Line On Smoking & Asthma
Secondhand 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
Pregnant women are advised not to smoke and to avoid secondhand smoke. There are many good reasons for that advice because cigarette smoke leads to low birth weight and higher infant mortality. One little known reason to avoid exposure to smoke during pregnancy, though, is that data show a link between a mother’s exposure to smoking — either her own or someone else’s — and an increase in her baby’s future risk of asthma attacks.
Additionally, there is research that shows if your parents smoke [during your childhood], you’re more likely to develop asthma.
The Bottom Line on Smoking and Asthma Attacks
In a recent, comprehensive set of guidelines for asthma management, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute strongly recommends the following steps for preventing asthma attacks:
- If you smoke, stop smoking now.
- Do not permit smoking in your car, home, or anywhere around you.
- If your child has asthma attacks, find caregivers or daycare centers where there is an absolute no-smoking policy.
If you smoke and are also the parent or close relative of a child with asthma, talk to your doctor and get help from family and friends to kick your habit. There isn’t a better gift you could give your child — or yourself, for that matter.