Children exposed to smoke pollution at risk of lung cancer, stroke, pediatricians warn mothers


Oluwatobiloba Jaiyeola

Pediatricians have cautioned Nigerian mothers against exposing their children to any form of smoke, noting that smoke pollution puts children at risk of severe short and long-term health problems.

According to the experts, children who are exposed to smoke pollution are more at risk of developing lung cancer and type 2 diabetes in the future and may even suffer cognitive impairment that could lead to learning disabilities.

The experts noted that such children could also suffer a stroke and may die from the health condition, warning that the effect of exposure to smoke can occur immediately or take a day or days to manifest.

They stressed that studies have confirmed that children exposed to smoke are at risk of serious health complications.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an interview, a paediatrician at the department of paediatrics at the Barau Dikko Teaching Hospital, Kaduna, Dr. Anisa Lawal asked mothers to keep their children away from cigarette smoke, firewood smoke, kerosene smoke, incense smoke and smoke from automobiles.

According to Dr. Lawal, aside from the long-term health risk of smoke pollution in children, it may also irritate their eyes, nose, and throat and subsequently, lead to cough, difficulty in breathing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

She explained that shortness of breath may occur as a result of inhaling some toxic and tiny substances that are found within the smoke itself.

Dr. Lawal noted that an agent found in smoke is carbon monoxide which can impair oxygen delivery to tissues leading to headaches, confusion, dizziness, and even loss of consciousness.

The pediatrician explained further that exposure to secondhand smoke can also affect the well-being of asthmatic children.

She said, “When a child is exposed to smoke, it can act as a trigger to acute asthmatic attacks in patients that have asthma or even hyperactive airway disease.

“This can lead to frequent asthmatic attacks and subsequently poor school performance.”

Dr. Lawal said, “It has also been shown that children with chronic exposure to smoke may have some level of cognitive impairment leading to learning disabilities.

“Exposure to secondhand smoke can hinder the growth of their lungs and put them at risk of severe respiratory diseases as they are still growing.

“It can also cause intrauterine growth restriction in a baby if the mother smokes cigarettes and also increases the chances of preterm delivery with low birth weight.

“Exposure increases the child’s risk of asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, middle ear infection and sudden infant death syndrome,” she warned.

Studies, she said, have shown that maternal cigarette smoking is the strongest risk factor leading to sudden infant death syndrome.

Studies, she added, have also shown that children born to women who are not smokers but are exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy and those born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD.

When asked about the long-term risks of exposure to smoke, Dr. Lawal said, “Long-term health risks include lung cancer. The risk of metabolic disease in adolescents increases the chance of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, and there the likelihood of the child also growing to become a smoker as an adolescent and during adult life, according to some studies.”

The paediatrician warned that children who come down with severe respiratory compromise and airway obstruction due to exposure to smoke may even die.

When a child gets exposed to smoke, Dr. Lawal said the treatment method depends on the presentation to the hospital.

The expert said the treatment “includes administration of oxygen, giving drugs that will alleviate the airway swellings, good hydration, making sure the that the child is breathing as this takes precedence over everything.”

She further urged government officials, and others to set up policies of no-smoking zones in schools, daycares, and other places to protect children from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Also speaking with our correspondent, a paediatrician at the Children Specialist hospital, Ilorin, Dr. Issa Hamdallah said while it is difficult to state the duration of smoke exposure that is dangerous, mothers should try as much as they can to reduce a child’s exposure to smoke.

“Exposing children to smoke from industries, cooking smokes like firewood, stove, coal pot and other forms of cooking that emit smoke can lead to frequent respiratory tract infections like pneumonia and can kill especially in severe exposure because it can result in inhalational injury.

“In the future, the child may also suffer long-term health risks like lung cancer and cardiovascular diseases,” she said.

Dr. Hamdallah reiterated that the prevention of smoke pollution, especially among children must be seen as very important because they are more vulnerable.

She said, “Health promotion and education such as building industries away from residential areas, measures to control gasses emitted from industries, cooking with a method that releases less smoke, having well-ventilated environments and educating mothers about the health implications of smoke exposure, will prevent complications due exposure.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

“Secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including more frequent and severe asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome.

“Some of the health conditions caused by secondhand smoke in adults include coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer. Smoking during pregnancy results in more than 1,000 infant deaths annually.

“Parents can help protect their children from secondhand smoke by taking the following actions; do not allow anyone to smoke anywhere in or near your home, do not allow anyone to smoke in your car, even with the window down, and make sure your children’s daycare centers and schools are tobacco-free.

“If your state still allows smoking in public areas, look for restaurants and other places that do not allow smoking,” it said.

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