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Doctors Should Offer Interventions When Children Live With Smokers: Study

New research highlights health problems faced by children and teens exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke, particularly respiratory issues, leading to recommendations that doctors offer interventions to decrease the risks.

In a study published in the September 2018 issue of the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati found even one hour of tobacco smoke exposure per week can lead to increased respiratory problems and more missed school days.

Exposure to tobacco smoke was found to increase the risk of children having higher numbers of emergency room or urgent care visits. Providers at these high-volume settings were urged to offer interventions to children and their families regarding the side effects of secondhand smoke.

Researchers used data from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health Study wave 2, which included 7,400 adolescents.

Children and teens who were exposed to tobacco smoke had an increased risk of reporting common respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, finding it hard to exercise, wheezing during or after exercise, and dry cough at night compared to teens who were not exposed to secondhand smoke.

Adolescents exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke were 1.5 times more likely to find it difficult to exercise, they were two times more likely to wheeze when exercising, and two times more likely to cough at night. They were also 1.5 times more likely to miss school because they were sick.

Among children living in a home with a smoker, there was also a higher risk of experiencing wheezing or whistling in the chest. Only teens who had tobacco smoke exposure at home had an increased chance of experiencing wheezing that was significant enough to disrupt their sleep.

As little as one hour of exposure to tobacco smoke each week can put an adolescent at increased risk for needing to visit the emergency room or urgent care, according to the findings. Those teens overall had more hospital visits.

Researchers noted that any exposure to secondhand cigarette smoke increased an adolescent’s risk of having a higher number of ER or urgent care visits.

Overall, teens with exposure to cigarette smoke had poor health compared to those that weren’t exposed to smoke. They more likely to miss school because of an illness. They were also less likely to be in excellent or good overall health and physical health.

The researchers suggested doctors in emergency rooms and urgent care centers focus on offering interventions for adolescents being treated in these settings.

“The providers at these high-volume settings should offer interventions to adolescents who are exposed to tobacco smoke and their families to decrease these symptoms and related morbidity,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers indicate that more interventions are needed to convey the risk secondhand cigarette smoke poses to children and teens. Simply being exposed to secondhand smoke put an adolescent at risk of having more health problems, being sick more often, missing more days of school, and having more ER or urgent care visits.

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