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Could secondhand smoke make your child’s sleep apnea worse?

Posted on January 21st, 2020

Is your child exposed to second-hand smoke at home or in the homes of other caregivers?  If your child is already suffering from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), exposure to second-hand smoke can result in a higher rate of hypopneas, incidences where the brain isn’t getting enough oxygen

Researchers writing in the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology conducted a study of children who had undergone sleep studies. For children with the most severe form of obstructive sleep apnea, exposure to second-hand smoke was associated with 1.48 times the number of stop-breathing episodes compared to children who hadn’t been exposed.  

This puts those children at more risk for complications like brain damage, poor educational outcomes, behavioral problems, and heart disease. However, there was no increase in risk for children with mild or moderate OSA.

If your child is at risk for OSA and is regularly exposed to second-hand smoke, what can you do to reduce their risks?

  • Encourage smokers to stop smoking or at least switch to other forms of nicotine consumption, such as gum, patches, or vaping, so they don’t expose the child to secondhand smoke.
  • Ask that smokers smoke outside, not in the house.
  • If your living situation doesn’t allow you to create a smoke-free home, make sure the child’s sleeping and play areas have HEPA filters. While these can’t remove 100% of toxins from the air, they can help.
  • Make sure your child’s pediatrician and dentist know that your child’s risk for damage from OSA is higher because of secondhand smoke exposure.

If you’re a medical or dental provider to children with OSA and secondhand smoke exposure, you may want to fast-track their referrals to ENTs or sleep doctors. Because secondhand smoke exposure increases the amount of time the brain spends without oxygen each night, these children must receive treatment as soon as possible for their condition.

Dr. Meghna Dassani has practiced dentistry for over two decades and is passionate about the role dentists play in whole-body health. You can learn more at her website:

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