Secondhand smoke causes longer hospitalization in infants with respiratory infections

More evidence has surfaced that supports the war on smoking, especially if smokers have an infant in their household. A study published today in the June issue of Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), found that infants with a family history of allergic disease with lower respiratory tract infections, who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for longer hospital stays.

An estimated 20 to 30 percent of otherwise healthy infants develop lower respiratory infections, such as bronchiolitis, annually. Of these, three percent are hospitalized.

Respiratory infections in infants are common, but if the infant has a family history of respiratory issues such as asthma, they are at higher risk for infection and hospitalization,” said allergist Meghan Lemke, MD, ACAAI member and lead study author. “Our research found that infants with a family history of allergic disease who are also exposed to secondhand smoke had a 23 percent longer hospital stay than those without secondhand smoke exposure.”

Researchers examined 451 mothers and infants enrolled in a study focusing on childhood asthma and atopic disease outcomes associated with viral respiratory infections. In this group, 57 percent of infants were exposed to secondhand smoke. While 36 percent had a mother with atopic disease and an allergy, and 68 percent had an immediate relative with an allergic disease.

“Infants that are hospitalized for bronchiolitis have up to a 30 percent chance of developing persistent wheezing or asthma within the first decade of life,” said allergist James Sublett, MD, chair of the ACAAI Indoor Environment Committee. “Secondhand smoke is extremely harmful to children with asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and has been shown to contribute to uncontrolled asthma.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic and 70 that can cause cancer.

Secondhand smoke causes other kinds of diseases and death

Secondhand smoke can cause harm in many ways. Each year in the United States alone, it is responsible for:

  An estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease in people who are current non-smokers
  About 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults
  Worse asthma and asthma-related problems in up to 1 million asthmatic children
  Between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections (lung and bronchus) in children under 18 months of age, with 7,500 to 15,000 hospitalizations each year
  Children exposed to secondhand smoke are much more likely to be put into intensive care when they have the flu, they are in the hospital longer, and are more likely to need breathing tubes than kids who aren’t exposed to SHS
  In the United States, the costs of extra medical care, illness, and death caused by SHS are over $10 billion per year

Secondhand smoke causes longer hospitalization in infants with respiratory infections “Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks in small children, which can be life-threatening,” said Dr. Sublett. “It is critical that parents and other family members never smoke around children, young or old, especially inside of the home and car where smoke can linger.”

Seven million American children have asthma, a disease that is a leading cause of missed school days and 456,000 hospitalizations in the United States annually. Asthmatics under the care of a board-certified allergist have a 60 to 89 percent reduction in hospitalizations.

What Is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke comes from both the smoke that smokers exhale (called mainstream smoke) and the smoke floating from the end of the cigarette, cigar, or pipe (called sidestream smoke).

It may seem pretty harmless, but secondhand smoke actually contains thousands of chemicals — from arsenic and ammonia to hydrogen cyanide — many of which have been proven to be toxic or to cause cancer (called carcinogens). High concentrations of many of these chemicals are found in secondhand smoke. In fact, secondhand smoke significantly increases a person’s risk for:

  respiratory infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia)
  asthma (secondhand smoke is a risk factor for the development of asthma and can trigger attacks in those who already have it)
  coughing, sore throats, sniffling, and sneezing
  heart disease

So secondhand smoke doesn’t just impact a person in the future. It can cause problems right now, like affecting someone’s sports performance or ability to be physically active.


Secondhand smoke causes longer hospitalization in infants with respiratory infections


The ACAAI is a professional medical organization of more than 5,700 allergists-immunologists and allied health professionals, headquartered in Arlington Heights, Ill. The College fosters a culture of collaboration and congeniality in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy and research. ACAAI allergists are board-certified physicians trained to diagnose allergies and asthma, administer immunotherapy, and provide patients with the best treatment outcomes.


Christine Westendorf

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American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology

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