Exposure to Secondhand Smoke May Trigger Childhood Asthma and Allergy, AGH Physicians Report

Childhood exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke may promote increased production of interleukin-13 (IL-13), a chemical that has been linked to the development of asthma and allergy, according to physicians at Allegheny General Hospital (AGH). The physicians presented this research at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology in Miami on March 7.

"During infancy, the body's immune responses, including IL-13 production, are still developing and may be influenced by a variety of environmental factors, including secondhand smoke," said Deborah Gentile, MD, director of research, division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, AGH. "Recent studies have shown that production of IL-13 was increased in T helper lymphocytes, specialized immune cells, exposed to tobacco smoke."

The physicians examined 32 children ages 1 to 6. Sixteen children had no exposure to secondhand smoke, and 16 did have exposure. The number of activated and IL-13 producing T helper lymphocytes was significantly increased in children exposed to secondhand smoke compared to those who were not exposed.

"These results demonstrate an association between environmental secondhand smoke exposure and enhanced production of IL-13 from T helper lymphocytes during early childhood, suggesting that early exposure to secondhand smoke predisposes to the development of childhood asthma and allergy," noted Dr. Gentile, who was the study's lead author. "This research is important because it may ultimately lead to the identification of strategies to treat or prevent childhood asthma and allergy."

Asthma is the leading cause of chronic illness in children in the United States, affecting as many as 10-12 percent. For reasons unknown, the rates continue to rise, with most children experiencing their first symptoms by age 5. Asthma accounts for significant limitations of daily activities, sleep difficulties, emergency room visits, hospitalization and health care costs.

Source: Allegheny General Hospital

This article originally appeared in the April 2006 issue of HME Business.


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