Smoking is the single greatest avoidable cause of death and disease in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The large number of toxic irritants and cancer-causing compounds in cigarettes can induce or aggravate an allergic reaction in smokers and individuals with allergies, states Penn Medicine.
Immune Reaction to Cigarette Smoke
Cigarettes contain 4,000 chemicals, of which 69 are cancer-causing agents that irritate the throat, airways and lungs. These chemicals and noxious particles cause inflammation of the airways leading to the lungs, as well as an influx of immune cells to the airways. Neutrophils, mast cells, CD8+ T cells and macrophages are immune cells that migrate to the walls and space within the airways, as well as the lungs, during an allergic reaction to cigarette smoke. These immune cells initiate and perpetuate the immune response by causing the release of histamine and other immune mediators into the airways. The release of histamine results in the signs and symptoms associated with an allergic reaction to cigarette smoke.
Hoarseness, Wheezing and Breathing Difficulties
Vocal hoarseness, wheezing and breathing difficulties are common symptoms of an allergic reaction to cigarette smoke. Cigarettes contains thousands of compounds, tar and reactive oxygen species that irritate the throat and airway passages. Coughing and hoarseness of the vocal chords are allergic symptoms caused by cigarette smoke, notes the National Institute of Environmental Health. The release of histamine into the upper respiratory tract causes the throat and upper respiratory tract to swell and close up in severe cases. Swelling of the upper respiratory tract increases the resistance to airflow and impairs the movement of oxygen into the lungs and carbon dioxide out the body. This results in wheezing, tightening of the chest and breathing difficulties.
Nasal Irritation or Congestion
Smoking cigarettes causes inflammation, irritation and swelling of the nasal passages. Histamine is released into the nasal passage, resulting in symptoms such as sneezing, itching of the eyes, post-nasal drip and a runny and stuffy nose due to the congestion and blockage. These symptoms are a common immunologic response to the chemicals present in cigarettes. There is no specific cure for nasal irritation or congestion; thus, the best treatment option is to avoid smoking cigarettes or secondhand smoke.
The children and spouses of smokers have an increased risk of developing asthma and respiratory infections. Cigarette smoke also increases the risk of an allergic reaction in individuals with asthma, bronchitis and allergic rhinitis. The National Institute of Environmental Health Science advises nonsmokers to avoid being in closed spaces, such as an elevator or a car, with a smoker. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous as firsthand smoke, and, thus, nonsmokers in close quarters with smokers are at an increased risk of developing respiratory allergic reactions.
Is This an Emergency?
- Penn Medicine; Cigarette Smoke; April 2007
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking; March 2011
- World Allergy Organization; IgE in Clinical Allergy and Allergy Diagnosis; May 2003
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: Cigarette Smoke
- University of Connecticut Net Wellness; Smoking and Tobacco; May 20, 2007
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Cough; September 2009
- Tri-County Cessation Center: Cigarette Ingredients
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Allergic Rhinitis
- "Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health"; Causes and Control of Chronic Respiratory Disease: Looking Beyond the SmokeScreen; D.P. Strachan; June 1992