Can You Be Allergic to Cigarette Smoke?
Experiencing allergy symptoms from cigarette smoke? Learn more about what causes this and how you can get your allergies treated in Denver.
Do you start sneezing and wheezing as soon as someone puffs a cigarette? You’re not alone! But are these symptoms the same as your body’s response to dust mites or tree pollen? The answer is — no!
Cigarette smoke is not actually a proven allergen, but it is most definitely an irritant. While it doesn’t trigger your immune system like other allergens, cigarette smoke can certainly cause symptoms that mimic allergies including difficulty breathing, watery eyes, coughing, and sneezing.
Can you be allergic to cigarette smoke?
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, hundreds of which are toxic. Specialists believe that the allergy-like symptoms people experience in response to cigarette smoke are actually a reaction to these toxic ingredients that make up tobacco products.
The irritating chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke cause symptoms similar to allergic rhinitis like coughing, congestion, wheezing, and headaches. People with allergic rhinitis will often have intensified allergy symptoms when they come in contact with tobacco smoke.
Tobacco Smoke Allergy Symptoms
If you are allergic to the chemicals in tobacco products, you may experience these common symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Watery eyes
- Runny nose
Tobacco Smoke & Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis patients seem to be more sensitive to the chemicals found in cigarettes and tobacco smoke. This is likely due to the smoke irritating nasal passages and thinning the mucus lining in the nose. If you suffer from allergies to common allergens like pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold, the compromised mucus lining allows for these allergens to enter your body more freely.
Smoking or secondhand smoke can also trigger an asthma attack in asthmatic people. To avoid this, asthmatics should avoid cigarette smoke as much as possible.
Tobacco Smoke & Contact Dermatitis
Touching tobacco products can sometimes lead to contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction that causes your skin to become red and irritated. People who work with tobacco products on a daily basis often experience this type of skin rash, but it’s uncommon otherwise.
Doctors don’t know exactly what causes contact dermatitis in response to tobacco, but they recommend avoiding tobacco products altogether if you’ve experienced this type of reaction.
Can Tobacco Smoke Cause Childhood Allergies
Children are especially vulnerable to environmental irritants, like cigarette smoke. Studies have shown that tobacco smoke exposure not only triggers allergy symptoms, it may also generate allergies in children.
According to a 2016 review, children are more likely to develop allergies if they are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke (both in and out of the womb). While we need additional research to understand the connection, it’s best to keep your children away from cigarette smoke.
Cigarette Smoke Allergy Test
If you suspect you’re experiencing allergy symptoms in response to cigarette smoke, an allergist can help determine your specific allergies through an allergy skin test.
The most common allergy test is called a scratch test (also known as a skin prick test). During a scratch test, your doctor can test 40 antigens at the same time and the results will show the level of sensitivity you may have to the chemicals found in cigarette smoke.
The process is as follows:
- A doctor or nurse will clean the test site with alcohol (either the forearm or upper back), and apply a drop of allergen to each mark.
- He/she will then prick the skin, allowing the allergen extract to seep in, and apply histamine and glycerin or saline to the sites (this should not be painful).
- Within 15 minutes, he/she will inspect the test sites to look for raised red, itchy bumps (called wheals) and record the results.
Swelling and itchiness should go away within 30 minutes to a few hours, while the red bumps may remain for a few days.
Other common types of allergy tests include intradermal, skin patch, and blood tests. All of these tests can help identify your specific allergy triggers.
Treatment for Smoke Allergy
Tobacco allergies can be treated in the same way as other allergies — with prevention and medication.
Throat lozenges and decongestants are available over-the-counter to help alleviate certain symptoms triggered by exposure to cigarette smoke.
To reduce exposure to tobacco smoke, you can:
- Stop smoking
- Avoid secondhand smoke
- Wear a mask if you are in contact with secondhand smoke
- Ask friends and family to wash their hands after smoking
At Advanced ENT & Allergy, our team specializes in diagnosing and treating allergies. We offer allergy testing and a variety of treatment plans, including medications and sublingual allergy immunotherapy (allergy drops).
If allergy symptoms are disrupting your life, let us help you find freedom and relief.