Secondhand Smoke Puts Kids at Risk

Smoke exposure weakens cough reflex in children

(RxWiki News) The cough reflex works to eject toxins from the respiratory system. If the cough reflex doesn’t work right, respiratory infection risk is higher.

A recent study tested the cough reflex of kids exposed to secondhand smoke.

Results found that kids exposed to secondhand smoke had the cough reflex of a child with a respiratory infection.

"Do not smoke around minors!"

Julia Mennella, PhD, developmental biologist, and Paul Wise, PhD, sensory scientist, at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, co-authored an investigation into the effects of secondhand smoke on children’s cough reflex.

This study compared two groups. The first group was 17 children aged 10-17 living with 13 parents who smoked around 10 cigarettes per day.

The second group was 21 children aged 10-17 living with 13 parents who had never smoked.

Both groups were exposed to inhaled capsaicin concentrations to test their sensitivity to irritation and cough threshold.

Capsaicin is the chemical in chili peppers that makes them spicy. Researchers had participants inhale capsaicin to irritate their throats and get them to cough.

Results of the study showed that kids that lived with smoking parents had twice the threshold for coughing as non-exposed kids, meaning that it took twice the amount of capsaicin to make the kids of smokers cough compared to kids of non-smokers.

This meant that their cough reflex, necessary to expel unwanted toxins and particles from the lungs, worked half as well as it should have in the exposed kids.

The adult smokers in the study also showed higher cough thresholds than smoke-free adults.

Researchers compared the repressed cough reflex in the kids who lived with smokers to the same level as having a respiratory tract infection.

Dr. Mennella said, “Cough protects our lungs from potentially damaging environmental threats, such as chemicals and dust. Living with a parent who smokes weakens this reflex, one of the most vital of the human body.”

Dr. Wise said, “This study suggests that even if an exposed child is not coughing, his or her respiratory health may still be affected by secondhand smoke.”

This study was published in August in Nicotine & Tobacco Research. Funding for the study was provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
August 21, 2012