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Asthma: Tobacco Smoke and Your Child

How does tobacco smoke affect children with asthma?

Asthma is a long-lasting (chronic) lung disease. It causes wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

Asthma symptoms are caused by two different problems in the airways.

  • One problem is that the muscles in the airways tighten up, which causes the feeling of chest tightness and wheezing.
  • The other problem is swelling, irritation and too much mucus in the airways.

If your child has asthma, symptoms often start after your child is exposed to a trigger. Asthma triggers can include:

  • Irritants such as cold air, chemicals, perfume, pollution, and smoke
  • Things your child might be allergic to, such as dust, pollen from plants and trees, molds, foods (such as peanuts), animal dander and medicines like aspirin
  • Illnesses like the flu, a cold, or a sinus infection
  • Physical activity (called exercise-induced asthma)
  • Indigestion, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. If your child often has problems with acid indigestion, he may have more asthma symptoms, especially at night.

Breathing second-hand smoke from tobacco, also called passive smoking, is harmful to the lungs of children.

Tobacco smoke irritates the airways in several ways. Smoke is made up of chemicals and very small pieces of ash that stay in the air long after the cigarette, pipe, or cigar is out. When a child with asthma breathes in these airborne chemicals and ash, it irritates the lining of the airways. This causes the muscles around the airways to squeeze tight, making it hard for the child to breathe.

Children who breathe second-hand smoke often have symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and a tight feeling in the chest. Even the smell of smoke on clothes can trigger asthma symptoms in a child with sensitive airways. Children with asthma should not spend any time in places where there is smoke. No one should smoke in the home, and no one should smoke in a car that a child with asthma rides in.

Children with asthma who live in a household with a smoker have more breathing problems, need to take more medicines, and have more emergency room visits than children who live in smoke-free homes. Children who live in a household with a smoker are also less likely to outgrow their asthma.

What will help me stop smoking?

The American Lung Association gives the following tips:

  1. Set a date for quitting.
  2. Remove cigarettes, ashtrays, matches, and lighters from your home, workplace, and car.
  3. Keep a supply of low-calorie snacks handy.
  4. Spend more time in places that don't allow smoking.
  5. Tell everyone you're going to stop smoking.
  6. Plan what you'll do instead of smoking.
  7. Call a friend if you need help.
  8. Think about using nicotine replacement gum or patches. The nicotine gum or patches help you cut your craving for nicotine. You can also ask your healthcare provider for a prescription medicine, such as Zyban, to help you quit.
  9. Contact the American Lung Association for help to stop smoking. The number for the national office is 212/315-8700.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-07-25
Last reviewed: 2012-03-05
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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