Cigarette Use May Explain Asthma Epidemic in Children
The rise in cigarette use by adults over the last century may explain the asthma epidemic in children, according to a study published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, the scientific journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI).
The prevalence of asthma has increased at least threefold during the last several decades, but the cause for this remains unknown, said author Renee D. Goodwin, Ph.D., M.P.H., Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY. The increase is occurring most prominently in industrialized countries, but now developing countries are beginning to experience similar increases.
Approximately 4.8 million children under age 18 have asthma in the United States. Although treatment and asthma management strategies can help control symptoms, asthma is a chronic condition with no known cure. Asthma most frequently begins in childhood. The cause is unknown, but allergies are a factor in the majority of children with asthma.
Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) inhaled unintentionally by nonsmokers has a higher concentration of some toxic substances, such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, than the smoke inhaled by smokers. Children breathe more air than adults and have narrower airways, so ETS is a greater causal risk factor of asthma in children. It can also increase the severity of their asthma symptoms.
Both genetic and environmental risk factors for asthma have been identified, noted Dr. Goodwin. Globally, six studies have shown environment tobacco smoke to be a risk factor of incident asthma. The risk for the development of childhood asthma was 2.5 times greater in young children with mothers who smoke more than 10 cigarettes per day indoors compared with mothers who smoke fewer cigarettes or not at all. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, especially in the home, increases a child’s likelihood of developing asthma by 63 percent, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Cigarette use, currently considered one of the most pressing public health problems worldwide, has become increasingly concentrated among economically and socially disadvantaged segments of the population, as well as among younger persons.
“Although cigarette consumption has declined in some segments of the United States population since its peak around 1981, the consequences and health effects of the drastic increase in the mid-1980s are still affecting adults and children,” Dr. Goodwin said.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) is a professional medical organization headquartered in Arlington Heights, IL, that promotes excellence in the practice of the subspecialty of allergy and immunology. The College, comprising more than 5,000 allergists-immunologists and related health care professionals, fosters a culture of collaboration in which its members work together and with others toward the common goals of patient care, education, advocacy, and research.