You’ve probably heard that secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as smoking the cigarette yourself. But studies now show the smoke from a burning end of a cigarette may contain more harmful substances than the smoke inhaled by the smoker.
Worse yet, for children with asthma, it can be even more detrimental to their health.
“Secondhand smoke has greater adverse effects on childhood asthma,” said Dr. David Karas, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Wadsworth. “For kids with asthma, their lungs are more sensitive than the average child and secondhand smoke can trigger asthma exacerbations.”
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic. When inhaled by a child with asthma, irritating substances in cigarette smoke settle in the moist lining of the airways. This serves as a powerful asthma trigger by increasing inflammation in the lungs and causing constriction in the small airways.
Since a child’s airways are smaller than an adult’s, smoke affects them more quickly, making them more likely to wheeze, cough and have shortness of breath — especially when they have asthma.
The smoke also damages the tiny hair-like structures in the airways called cilia. Since the cilia sweep dust and mucus out of the airways, these substances can accumulate when they are damaged, leading to a potential asthma attack.
In addition, it can make kids with asthma more likely to develop sinus and lung infections, which can worsen their symptoms. These factors can lead to problems with lung function later in life.
“If children are chronically exposed to secondhand smoke, they may require higher doses of medicine to keep their asthma under control,” said Dr. Karas. “They also may need their rescue inhaler more frequently, and may put them at risk for more frequent trips to the Emergency Room and hospital stays.”
Surprisingly, thirdhand smoke also can pose a danger to kids with asthma. Cigarette smoke can be absorbed into upholstery, clothing and carpeting that can’t be washed away with soap and water.
“Even if a mom goes outside to smoke, if she doesn’t change her clothes and picks up her baby, that child is still being exposed to thousands of toxins,” said Dr. Karas. “Thirdhand smoke can still induce all the same symptoms as secondhand smoke.”
So the next time you’re thinking about lighting up, snuff it out. Avoid restaurants and other public places that allow smoking. It’s worth it. Your child’s health is at risk.
“Cigarette smoking is one of the biggest preventable asthma triggers. Viral infections and allergies can be difficult to avoid,” said Dr. Karas. “By eliminating secondhand or thirdhand smoke, you’re not only reducing your children’s exposure to possible asthma triggers but also helping to eliminate their risk for lung cancer in the future.”