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Patient education: Secondhand smoke and children (The Basics)

Patient education: Secondhand smoke and children (The Basics)

What is secondhand smoke? — This is the term doctors use for the smoke that people breathe in when they're near a person who is smoking. Another term for secondhand smoke is "environmental tobacco smoke."

Children can also be exposed to "thirdhand smoke." This is the term for the chemicals that are left behind in a home or car when people smoke inside. It can stay on carpets, walls, and other surfaces for a long time. When children come into contact with these things, they are exposed to some of the same chemicals as people who smoke.

Does secondhand smoke cause health problems in children? — Yes. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke can cause health problems in children. These problems are worse if more than 1 adult in the home smokes.

What health problems can secondhand smoke cause in children? — Secondhand smoke increases the chance of children having the following health problems:

Asthma – Asthma is a lung condition that makes it hard to breathe. It doesn't cause symptoms all of the time. But when symptoms flare up, children wheeze, cough, or get a tight feeling in their chest.

Breathing symptoms, such as coughing, coughing up mucus, or wheezing (noisy breathing)

Lung infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia – These infections can be especially serious in babies and young children.

Ear infections

Hearing loss (later in childhood)

Later, as adults, children who grew up with secondhand smoke are more likely to get:

Asthma

Lung cancer

Other types of cancers

Heart disease

Also, children who grow up around adults who smoke are more likely to start smoking themselves.

What if my child already has asthma? — If a child already has asthma, secondhand smoke can make their symptoms worse. Also, secondhand smoke causes children with asthma to need to take asthma medicines or go to the hospital more often.

What if I am pregnant? — Even if you do not smoke yourself, spending a lot of time around secondhand smoke can have risks to your pregnancy. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of:

Stillbirth – This is when a baby dies before it is born, in the second half of pregnancy or during labor.

Your baby weighing less than normal at birth

Is it enough to just make a smoke-free room in my home? — No. Even if 1 room is smoke-free, there will still be "thirdhand" smoke in other parts of your home. If you want to lower the risk to the children in your home, you need to make your whole home smoke-free. You also need to make your car smoke-free.

It will also not help enough to smoke at home only when no children are around, or use an air cleaner.

What should I do if I want to quit smoking? — Quitting smoking can improve both your health and your family's health. Quitting can be hard, but help and support are available.

If you want to quit smoking, think of the letters in the word "START." They can help you remember the steps to take:

S = Set a quit date.

T = Tell family, friends, and the people around you that you plan to quit.

A = Anticipate or plan ahead for the tough times you'll face while quitting.

R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car, and work.

T = Talk to your doctor or nurse about getting help to quit.

Your doctor or nurse can also help you. They can:

Connect you with a counselor – A counselor can help you figure out what triggers your smoking and what you can do instead.

Prescribe medicines to help you quit smoking – Some medicines reduce your craving for cigarettes. Others reduce unpleasant symptoms (called "withdrawal symptoms') that happen when you stop smoking.

You can also get help from a free phone line (1-800-QUIT-NOW, or 1-800-784-8669) or the website www.smokefree.gov.

More on this topic

Patient education: Quitting smoking (The Basics)
Patient education: Harmful health effects of smoking (The Basics)
Patient education: Smoking in pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: How to plan and prepare for a healthy pregnancy (The Basics)
Patient education: Asthma in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Cough in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Pneumonia in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Acute bronchitis in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Ear infections in children (The Basics)
Patient education: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (The Basics)

Patient education: Quitting smoking (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Ear infections (otitis media) in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Asthma symptoms and diagnosis in children (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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