Written by Felix Shardonofsky, MD, previously published by the Temple Daily Telegram “Children’s Health Matters” column.
Infants and toddlers frequently experience coughing, wheezing and labored breathing as a result of multiple disorders; however, these breathing problems are often associated with viral respiratory infections (the common cold), and harmful effects of environmental exposures such as tobacco smoke.
It has been shown that when women smoke during pregnancy, their babies are more likely to be born smaller than normal and to experience more frequent and severe episodes of coughing, wheezing and labored breathing early in life compared with infants who have not been exposed to tobacco smoke during pregnancy. In infants at risk, exposure to tobacco smoke during gestation alters the growth of their windpipes, which explains in part, why it is so difficult to treat their lung disease. Furthermore, coughing, wheezing and ear infections occur more frequently and are more difficult to treat when infants and toddlers are exposed to tobacco smoke after birth. This happens when people smoke in their presence at home, in the car, or at a restaurant, because infants inhale smoke from burning cigarettes and toxic chemicals exhaled from the lungs of smokers.
It is important to understand that even if an adult is not smoking when he or she shares a room with a child, the child is still exposed to toxic products exhaled from the smoker’s lungs which are loaded with toxic chemicals. It is well known that tobacco smoke causes serious illnesses in adults; however, the fact that tobacco smoke causes lung disease in infants, toddlers and children and makes any lung condition that they may have worse, and is often overlooked.
Legislation has limited tobacco smoke in public places but we have continued to expose the most vulnerable people to tobacco smoke in our homes. Public health education must raise awareness of the detrimental effects of tobacco smoke at home on our children’s health. The right of our children to breathe “clean air” is the same as our right to drink pure water. Growing up in a smoke-free home is fundamental for a child’s health. It has been shown that many adults who may not stop smoking for their own sake would do so for the sake of their children. Parents and caregivers should be encouraged to stop smoking and smoking cessation programs must be made more accessible to them. Scott & White Healthcare offers tobacco cessation classes and resources to help break the habit. Sign up today for a class in your area.
At a time when advances in medicine and technology allow us to treat life-threatening diseases, the health of our community is increasingly put at risk by our unhealthy lifestyle, including diet, lack of exercise and cigarette smoke. Promoting a healthy lifestyle for us and our children is a responsibility shared by all members of the community including parents, teachers and healthcare providers.