Secondhand Smoke in Children: Care Instructions

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Secondhand smoke comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, or pipe and the smoke that a smoker exhales. The smoke contains nicotine and many other harmful chemicals. Breathing secondhand smoke can cause or worsen health problems such as cancer, asthma, coronary artery disease, and respiratory infections. It can make a child's eyes and nose burn. And it can cause a sore throat.

Secondhand smoke is especially bad for babies and young children whose lungs are still developing. Children who breathe secondhand smoke are more likely to have ear infections, pneumonia, and bronchitis in the first few years of their lives. Secondhand smoke can make asthma symptoms worse in children.

Secondhand aerosol from vapes does not contain as much nicotine and other harmful chemicals as secondhand tobacco smoke does. But there is a concern about possible health risks from secondhand aerosol exposure.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke in your home. If people must smoke, ask them to go outside.
  • If people do smoke in your home, choose a room where you can open a window or use a fan to get the smoke outside.
  • Do not let anyone smoke in your car. If someone must smoke, pull over in a safe place and let them smoke away from the car.
  • Help your family and friends who smoke to quit by encouraging them to try. Tell them about treatment resources. Having support from others often helps.
  • If you smoke, quit. Quitting is hard, but there are ways to boost your chance of quitting tobacco for good.
    • Use nicotine replacement such as gum, patches, or lozenges. Call a quitline. Ask your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines.
    • Keep trying.

When should you call for help?

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if your child has any problems.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.