Smoking and Asthma

You may have family photo albums full of people smoking at every type of event, from birthday parties to company picnics. That's because smoking was once accepted pretty much everywhere — even in doctor's offices. But that changed as we learned more about the health problems it causes.

If you have asthma, smoking is especially risky because of the damage it does to the lungs.

When someone smokes, he or she may cough, wheeze, and feel short of breath. This is because smoke irritates the airways, causing them to become swollen, narrow, and filled with sticky mucus. These are the same things that happen during an asthma flare-up. That's why smoking can cause asthma flare-ups to happen more often. Those flare-ups may be more severe and harder to control, even with medicine.

If You Smoke

You may have started smoking because all your friends do or because you grew up in a house where lots of people smoked. Some people try smoking because they are curious or bored. No matter why you started, if you're thinking about quitting, it would probably help your asthma.

Smoking can undo the effect of any controller medicine you're taking. It also can force you to use your rescue medicine more often. It can also disturb your sleep by making you cough more at night and can affect how well you perform in sports or other physical activities. Worst of all, it can send you to the emergency department with a severe asthma flare-up.

If you decide to quit smoking, you don't have to go it alone. Seek the support of others who are also trying to quit. You also might ask your doctor about medication or different strategies that can help you crave cigarettes less.

If Other People Smoke

Even if you don't smoke, you may still run into smoky situations in restaurants, parties, or even at home if one of your family members smokes. Secondhand smoke is a known asthma trigger, so you'll want to avoid it as much as possible if you have asthma.

If you hang out with smokers or have a family member who smokes in the house, you are likely to have more frequent and severe asthma symptoms. You may have to take more medicine and your asthma may be harder to control. Finally, you may find yourself at the doctor's office or emergency department more often because of asthma symptoms.

There's not much you can do about other people's behavior, but you should let your friends and family know that what they are doing is making your asthma worse. Ask them not to smoke in your house or car. It's your air, after all.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: October 2010

Kids Health

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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