Asthma and Smoking

When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.

This powerful message--found on the American Lung Association website--couldn't be more truthful. If you suffer from asthma and/or other respiratory diseases, the heat, chemicals, and smoke from cigarettes is the last thing your lungs need.

“Asthma and smoking simply don’t mix,” a pulmonologist once told me.

Asthma affects both children and adults and can be life threatening. Deaths due to asthma number over 3300 every year, according to the Allergy and Asthma Foundation. Many deaths can be prevented by taking measures to treat symptoms before they worsen. Asthma symptoms include:

  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath/difficulty breathing

Avoiding asthma triggers and regular use of a controller inhaler are key to preventing asthma exacerbations. One such trigger to avoid is tobacco smoke, including smoke from pipes, cigars or cigarettes. According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention, 21% of U.S. adults smokeand have asthma. If you have asthma and smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your lung’s health and for the health of your children’s lungs.

Children are particularly susceptible to lung irritants as their bodies are much smaller. Childhood asthma affects 7.1 million children under the age of 18. Smoking during pregnancy can potentially affect newborn lung development and increase risk of childhood asthma.

While, to date, there is insufficient data to show that smoking and secondhand smoke cause asthma, it does make asthma symptoms worse.  Tobacco smoke, whether inhaled directly (mainstream smoke) or indirectly (passive smoke) irritates the airways and causes a chain reaction including inflammation of the airways, tightening of airway muscles, and increased mucus production, all of which contribute to the narrowing and obstruction of the airways.

When you quit smoking, you effectively remove a huge source of lung irritation and will notice better asthma control and fewer flare-ups. It is possible, however, that you may notice an initial worsening of asthma symptoms--increased chest tightness, difficulty breathing, coughing, and mucus production. But do not despair!  What may appear to be an excacerbation of your asthma is the contrary: your body is healing. Think of it this way: it’s almost if you are not used to breathing without restriction (or if you haven’t breathed easily in the many years you probably smoked). These changes may act as a trigger to asthma symptoms (remember: people with asthma have "twitchy" lungs, meaning hyper-reactivity to anything that can potentially trigger a flare-up). But in the long run, your asthma should IMPROVE. Most folks notice a significant improvement in breathing after 90 days.

In the meantime, you may find yourself increasing your usage of a “rescue” inhaler, at least until symptoms improve. You might also try a warm bath or compress or breathing and relaxation exercises to help alleviate tight chest muscles.   

The bottom line: keeping your house smoke-free will leave you and your family breathing easier.