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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Children Exposed to Smoke Run Increased Risk of Emphysema

Published December 31, 2009 1:27 PM by Vern Enge
 Lung function tests are not necessarily the gold standard when it comes to assessing the overall lung health of patients, especially those exposed to secondhand smoke. Other tests may be more helpful, according to the findings of a group of New York researchers.

So it should probably come as no surprise to lung health experts that children who grow up in the homes of smokers run a higher risk of diseases like emphysema when they get older than do youngsters of the same age who are not surrounded by smokers in their homes.

In a study of 1,781 non-smokers (about half of whom grew up in homes with at least one smoker), researchers found differences in CT scans of those who grew up with smokers compared to those who did not.

Researchers speculated the difference in CT findings might be attributed to the fact the lungs of nearly half of study participants never totally recovered from second-hand smoke exposure when they were young.

"We were able to detect a difference on CT scans between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker as a child and those who did not," explained Gina Lovasi, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. "Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke may also persist for decades," she noted in a university press release.

Of interest to respiratory therapists, the researchers did not find a link between childhood exposure to tobacco smoke and lung function. Lovasi explained the reason: "Emphysema may be a more sensitive measure of damage compared with lung function in this relatively healthy cohort."

Findings of the research were reported in the December issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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