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Smoking and Tobacco

Recovering from effects of secondhand smoke

11/05/2007

Question:

Hi i am 15 years old and most of my life i have been exposed to secondhand smoke. I have now realized the effects and try not to be exposed however i am worried about the damage secondhand smoke might have done to my body already. Even though i have no symptoms of an illness except that i can`t always run for very long, i am really worried . if i have completely stopped being exposed from second hand smoke will my body completely recover.

Answer:

How long does damage done to a child by secondhand smoke persist?  Unfortunately, this can be the gift that keeps on giving. There are a number of factors that determine your potential for long-term damage: when your exposure started, how long it lasted, how intense it was and how your body reacts.
 
We know that babies of nonsmoking mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke during their pregnancies are at higher risk for growth retardation and low birth weight, and there is some evidence that they get less oxygen during the pregnancy.  Shortly after birth, babies exposed to secondhand smoke are much more likely to die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  You have apparently escaped that risk.
 
Exposed young children are twice as likely to develop allergies.  They get many more ear infections, and they are more likely to develop tooth decay.  Some studies show a lowering of exposed kids "good" cholesterol (HDL), and there are a mix of studies suggesting kids who are exposed are more likely to have behavioral problems.
 
Secondhand smoke is most toxic to the developing respiratory system.  It both causes and exacerbates asthma.  New studies also show that exposure can cause a general decline in lung function as well as increased rates of "colds," bronchitis and pneumonia.  There is even some suggestive evidence that secondhand smoke can cause childhood brain cancer and lymphoma.
 
Whew!.  That's probably more than you wanted to know.  The question you've asked "will my body completely recover?"  I'm afraid I can't answer that, but certainly keeping clear of future exposure and taking good care of yourself is your best strategy at this point.
 
The bottom line: most pediatricians and family physicians know that chronically exposing a child to secondhand smoke is a form of child abuse.  If you are reading this and currently smoke in a home where kids live, or in a car where kids ride, STOP!  Take it outside.  Or better yet, quit.  There is no excuse.

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Response by:

Rob  Crane, MD Rob Crane, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Family Medicine
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University