In 2015, approximately 18.4 million US adults, or 7.6 percent of the population, reported having asthma, a chronic condition that affects your lungs and breathing. Here are some quick facts about asthma:
- An asthma attack can occur when an irritant causes a person’s airways to become swollen and inflamed.
- During an asthma flare-up, mucus fills the airways and the surrounding muscles contract, causing the bronchial tubes to narrow, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.
- Symptoms of asthma attacks can include coughing, shortness of breath or trouble breathing, wheezing, tightness or pain in the chest.
- Very serious asthma attacks may be life-threatening.
- Tobacco smoke is one of the most common asthma triggers.
Despite this, 21 percent of adults with asthma in the US reported that they smoked in 2010. Those who smoke and have asthma may be exacerbating their condition and putting their health, and the health of others, at risk. Whether you’re a smoker or supporter, below are some key facts on the relationship between smoking and asthma.
- Smoking cigarettes damages your lungs, decreasing and slowing the hair-like structures in your lungs called cilia. Cilia are necessary to clear mucus from the lungs, but when they are damaged they are unable to clear mucus. So having an asthma flare-up with damaged lungs can be especially serious. (But there’s some good news: 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting, your lungs function will start to improve!)
- Active smoking may decrease the effectiveness of some short term treatments for mild asthma. Make sure to speak to a doctor about asthma medication that is right for your needs.
- Smoking while pregnant can increase the likelihood that a child will develop asthma. According to the European Respiratory Society, it is the “most important known modifiable risk factor for asthma” – meaning that not smoking is one of the most important things an expectant mother can do to prevent her baby from developing asthma. Additionally, not smoking can decrease the chances of premature birth, birth defects, and infant death.
- Secondhand smoke comes from two sources: a burning cigarette and when a person who is smoking exhales. There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, which means that those around a smoker, including family, friends, and pets are exposed to the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals found in tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke can trigger asthma attacks, including in children. This exposure can cause children with asthma to have more frequent and more severe asthma attacks.
- Those with asthma may suffer from flare-ups due to tobacco smoke, especially if they live in proximity to a smoker. For those who live in multi-unit living facilities, smokefree housing programs and resources may be available.
If you’re a smoker who is worried about your health and the health of those around you, there is plenty you can do to improve your health and protect the health of others – namely, by quitting smoking.
It is never too late to stop smoking, as there are benefits to quitting at any age. Take the first step by talking to your healthcare provider today.