Cities and town across the United States have attempted to protect children from secondhand smoke by making their parks and recreation areas smoke-free zones, and not allowing smoking in restaurants. Some state laws have even been enacted to keep smokers from lighting up with children in their cars. Other municipalities have banned smoking in shared housing such as designated apartment buildings. Protecting children from secondhand smoke also protects them from experiencing frequent ear infections and asthma attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Now there may be another reason to protect children from smoke; exposure to secondhand smoke may impair the cough reflex in children.
When exposed to environmental irritants, such as those in air pollution like dust, the human body has a natural tendancy to cough to keep the air passages clear. According to a new study, when children are exposed to secondhand smoke, it lowers their sensitivity to irritants and weakens this natural cough reflex causing them to keep more irritants in their lungs.
In the study, 38 healthy children between 10-17 years of age were evaluated; 21 of the children had never been exposed to smoke in the house. The children’s parents were also tested for the study. In order to measure the cough reflex, the individuals were given capsaicin in a nebulizer treatment. Capsaicin is the ingredient in chili peppers that causes burning, and small amounts of the substance triggers coughing. The capsaicin was introduced into the breathing treatment and increased until each individual coughed twice. This was then recorded as the individual’s cough threshold.
The researchers discovered that the children who were exposed to secondhand smoke needed twice the amount of capsaicin in order to trigger their coughing as compared to those living in non-smoking homes. This explains why children exposed to daily secondhand smoke may have more respiratory illnesses as they are less sensitive to irritants in their environment and have a weakened cough reflex that does not remove irritants from their airways.
According to the U.S. Suregon General when children are exposed to secondhand smoke they are at an increased risk for respiratory illnesses, such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and may “experience more frequent and severe” asthma attacks. Their lungs are slow to develop and are weaker. The children are more prone to ear infections and it puts them at an increased risk for sudden infact death syndrome (SIDS).
This new study adds yet another reason to protect children from secondhand smoke.
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