Passive smoking or secondhand smoke has more chances of getting asthma attacks by making allergies worsen. Smoking weakens your lungs. When you have asthma and smoke, your lungs will weaken more rapidly. Smoking around a child with asthma will weaken their lungs too.
When a person inhales tobacco smoke, irritating substances settle in the moist lining of the airways. These substances can cause an attack in a person who has asthma. Smoke also causes the lungs to make more mucus than normal. As a result, even more mucus can build up in the airways, triggering an attack.
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,” says Miles Weinberger, MD, professor of pediatrics and director of the Pediatric Allergy & Pulmonary Division at the University of Iowa.
Dr. Weinberger cites statistics that 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, says Weinberger. 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, Weinberger has done research in Iowa City that shows that 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, he says. 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.
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.