Cigarette smoke can trigger asthma symptoms. Despite this, in the United States, 21 percent of people who have asthma currently smoke, compared with 16.8 percent of people who do not have asthma.
This article discusses how smoke, second-hand smoke, and electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) vapor affect people with asthma. It also explores how people can reduce their exposure to asthma triggers.
How are asthma and smoking linked?
Smoking is harmful for everyone, but it is particularly harmful for people with asthma. Both smoke and second-hand smoke may trigger asthma symptoms.
Tobacco smoke is an irritant. It contains over 7,000 chemicals, at least 69 of which can cause cancer.
Smoke can aggravate asthma because:
- Smoke particles cause the airways to swell and become narrow.
- When smoke reaches the lungs, it triggers mucus production.
- Smoke can damage the cilia, which are tiny hairs in the throat that normally sweep away mucus.
When a person with asthma inhales smoke or second-hand smoke, they may notice some respiratory or asthma symptoms. The result is often swollen, narrow airways filled with mucus.
This may trigger an asthma attack and cause the following symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- chest tightness
Second-hand smoke refers to that exhaled by someone who smokes mixed with smoke from the end of a lit cigarette or cigar. The smoke from the end of a lit cigarette or cigar may contain more harmful substances than first-hand smoke.
Both first- and second-hand smoke are harmful to a person’s health.
Quitting smoking is the most beneficial way to reduce smoke exposure. A doctor can offer support and advice on how to quit smoking.
While quitting, using nicotine replacement aids such as gum or patches may help. Since it is not possible to inhale these, they are less likely to trigger asthma symptoms than using e-cigarettes.
To avoid second-hand smoke exposure, make sure anyone who smokes does not do so:
- in the house
- in the car
- around children or other adults
In addition, people should:
- avoid venues that allow smoking
- choose schools with a smoke-free campus policy
It is important to teach children why and how to avoid second-hand smoke. These lessons are more likely to have an effect when caregivers themselves do not smoke.
As well as triggering asthma attacks, second-hand smoke can cause children to get sick more often.
Second-hand smoke may increase the risk of the following health problems in children:
- ear infections
Second-hand smoke exposure is also linked to sudden infant death syndrome. This occurs when an otherwise healthy infant suddenly dies without a clear cause or explanation.
More research is needed, but second-hand smoke may also be linked to childhood:
- brain tumors
- liver cancer
Smoking during pregnancy harms a baby. Babies of mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to:
- have respiratory problems
- develop asthma
- have a low weight at birth
- be born prematurely
- be born with birth defects
The CDC report that since 1964, 100,000 babies have died from complications as a result of exposure to chemicals present in tobacco smoke.
Smoke and second-hand smoke contain a number of irritants that can aggravate a person’s airways. Both are common asthma triggers. They may cause an asthma attack, leading to breathing difficulties.
Research into the link between e-cigarette vapor and asthma is ongoing. However, as vapor contains chemicals, it follows that it is likely to irritate a person’s throat and may trigger asthma.
When quitting smoking, noninhalable nicotine replacements such as gum or patches may be more suitable for people with asthma. This is because they are less likely to irritate the throat.
Second-hand smoke causes many other health problems for children and adults exposed to it. Reducing second-hand smoke exposure using the strategies explored above is the best way to avoid its negative health effects.
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