and Answers About Smoking and Asthma
Tobacco smoke is an exceptionally aggravating trigger
that can worsen asthma symptoms for the nearly 20.3 million people
in the United States who suffer from asthma. Quitting smoking should
be a priority for people who have asthma, or have family members
with asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma
and Immunology (AAAAI).
For people suffering with asthma, smoking is the
worst thing you can do. Below, Linda Ford, MD, FAAAAI, AE-C, of
Quality of Care for Asthma Committee, answers common questions
about smoking and its effects on asthma. Dr. Linda Ford is an allergist/immunologist
in Papillion, Nebraska and a former president of the American Lung
Q: What is asthma?
A: Asthma is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that blocks air
flow of the tubes (airways) that leads air to the lungs. By squeezing
the muscles around the airways and causing swelling, inflammation
of the inside of the air tubes, and producing excess mucus, the
airways become narrower and therefore more difficult for air
to move in and out of the lungs.
Q: How does smoking affect a person's asthma?
A: Smoking can harm your body in many ways, but it is very harmful
to the lungs. The airways in a person with asthma are very sensitive
and "twitchy" and therefore can easily be squeezed
down by the smooth muscle that surrounds these tubes. Many things
can trigger symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, experiencing
chest tightness and shortness of breath. When a person inhales
tobacco smoke whether for personal smoking or passive smoke,
these irritating substances can set off an asthma attack.
Q: How does smoking affect pregnancy?
A: Children born to mothers who smoke when pregnant have an increased
risk for reduced lung function and asthma. Other risks include
decreased birth weight and size as well as an increased risk
for eczema and hay fever. Once you quit smoking, your baby will
be healthier, get more oxygen and have fewer infections and colds.
It is also important to stay away from places that allow smoking
when you are pregnant, since secondhand smoke can contribute
to these risks.
Q: What is the danger of secondhand smoke exposure?
A: Children are more susceptible than adults to the effects of
secondhand smoke because their lungs are still developing. After
infancy, exposure to tobacco smoke may continue to cause abnormal
breathing. Smoking leads to decreased lung function, making the
lungs more susceptible to asthma triggers. Fifteen million children
are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke and up to one million
children with asthma become more severe after exposure to secondhand
smoke. Children who inhale environmental tobacco smoke are also
at increased risk for a variety of problems including cough,
wheeze, ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, allergic diseases,
and hospital admissions for asthma.
Q: What changes will I see if I quit smoking?
A: Quitting smoking decreases the chance of triggering asthma attacks
and improves your lung function whether you have asthma or not.
Everyone should be smoke free. While you are stopping, at least
you can stop smoking in the house and the car to decrease exposure
to secondhand smoke for your family members. Within minutes of
quitting smoking, you will begin a series of changes in your
body such as having more energy, breathing easier, smelling,
tasting food better, and decreasing your body's carbon monoxide
level. Some long-term benefits of quitting smoking are the decreasing
chance of heart attack, improving your circulation, decreasing
sinus congestion and cough, and reducing the risk of a stroke.
The AAAAI and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have worked
together to increase awareness about the dangers of secondhand
smoke through the Smoke Free Home Campaign. Visit the Patient and
Consumer resource page on the AAAAI Web site, www.aaaai.org, to
learn more about the campaign and to take the pledge for a smoke
Q: How can my allergist/immunologist help me manage my asthma?
A: An allergist/immunologist is a physician specially trained to
manage and treat allergies and asthma. To help prevent symptoms,
he or she will work with you to figure out your asthma triggers
and develop an appropriate management plan, including developing
environmental controls and prescribing medication if needed.
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