Published last October in Pediatric Research, the study titled “Child tobacco smoke exposure and healthcare resource utilization patterns,” compared the admission rates of 380 children exposed to tobacco smoke, with 1,140 children who were not exposed. The findings indiciated that children exposed to tobacco smoke were 24 times more likely to be admitted to hospital than non-exposed children.
“We know that exposure to secondhand smoke is related to substantial morbidity in children. In addition to exposed children having more health care visits, I was really interested in taking a closer look at the actual resource utilization during their visits. For example, [I looked at whether] children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to have more infectious diagnostic, lab and radiologic tests during their emergency visit than children who are unexposed,” said lead stuyd author Ashley Merianos, an associate professor in UC’s School of Human Services.
The children exposed to smoke require more medication when hospitalized
The research also indicated that the children in the exposed group were also nearly eight times more likely to have suctioning performed with a BBG nasal aspirator, and over seven times more likely to be given steroids during their hospitalization. Of the children suffering from asthma, those exposed to tobacco smoke were 27 times more likely to receive steroids during their emergency department visit and over 15 times more likely to need albuterol, a bronchodilator used to treat asthma attacks.
“Even just being able to eliminate one child’s tobacco smoke exposure levels is a job well done on my part,” said Merianos. “It’s about bringing health promotion and disease prevention efforts to these vulnerable populations and making a positive change to the child’s health, as well as the family’s health.”
The indirect effects of parental smoking
A 2019 study of Taiwanese families had analysed the effect of paternal smoking during the mother’s pregnancy and its effects on immune system genes. The researchers looked for signs of asthma in over 1,600 babies, 756 of which were followed for six years.
It is already widely known that exposure to tobacco smoke during development harms children, and non-coding ‘epigenetic’ changes to DNA have been repeatedly found. The research, published in Frontiers in Genetics, revealed how immune genes can predict the level of risk, and found that just like maternal smoking or air pollution, paternal smoking during pregnancy can also program epigenetic modifications, which in turn increase the associated risk of childhood asthma.
“We found that prenatal exposure to paternal tobacco smoking is associated with increased methylation of certain immune genes, which alters how the genetic code is read,” says lead author Dr Wu Chih-Chiang of Po-Jen Hospital in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. “This smoking associated DNA methylation is significantly retained from birth to six years of age, and correlates with development of childhood asthma.”
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