Exposure to smoking in the home is linked to health problems in children, in particular for those with asthma, according to new research published in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Children’s Hospital examined a total of 619 children between the ages of one and 16 over a period of a little more than a year for the study.
Saliva samples taken from the children revealed that an overwhelming majority of those brought in for treatment of asthma or other breathing difficulties had been exposed to tobacco smoke. The lead author on the study, Robert Kahn, stated that based on the results of the study “We think saliva is a good and potentially useful test for assessing an important trigger for asthma.”
It appears that the evidence of nicotine found in the saliva of children with asthma treated at the hospitals was also a predictor of whether those same children would be readmitted for additional asthma related problems. With a readmission rate of about 17 percent, the researchers discovered that exposure to smoking in the home appears to double the risk of a child being readmitted for asthma-related issues within a year when compared with children that were not exposed to smoking.
When researchers simply asked the children’s parents or primary caregivers about smoking in the home and a child’s possible exposure to tobacco, without consideration to what the saliva test showed, it appeared that there was no correlation between exposure to smoking and hospital readmission. This discrepancy indicates that parents and primary caregivers may be providing a less than accurate picture of their home life and that medical testing is a much more accurate measure of predicting the children’s potential health problems.
While only 35 percent of the parents and primary caregivers questioned reported that the children being treated had been exposed to tobacco, approximately 56 percent of blood samples taken from the children showed evidence of tobacco exposure, and approximately 80 percent of saliva samples indicated that it was likely the children were exposed to smoking in the home.
The researchers are excited about the possibility of an objective and relatively non-invasive way to measure children’s exposure to tobacco and predict the likelihood of hospital readmission for those with asthma. They also report that the results have the potential to be used by insurance companies to provide incentives to their subscribers to quit smoking in order to prevent long-term increased medical expenses.
The study is consistent with a recently released report from the Surgeon General that also calls for stronger action against smoking and tobacco use. The report explains that exposure to secondhand smoke, merely being in the same room as someone who is smoking, can cause irreparable harm to a person’s health.
The Surgeon General’s report states that more than 20 million Americans have suffered adverse health effects or had their lives shortened due to smoking over the past 50.
Now that the researchers have completed their work linking smoking in the home to children’s health problems, particularly for those children with asthma, they are looking at “links between traffic-related air pollution and hospital readmission for asthmatics.”
By Michele Wessel