May 26, 2006

Smoking Linked to Allergic Rhinitis in Infants

photo of an infant being examined by a doctor

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, can strike infants as young as 6 months old, bringing a stuffy nose, sneezing, nasal itching and rubbing. In a new study looking at environmental factors that might be involved, researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that exposure to more than 20 cigarettes per day was associated with an increased risk of developing allergic rhinitis by age one. Mold, another suspected culprit, wasn't linked to an increased risk of allergic rhinitis, but it did significantly increase the risk of upper respiratory infections.

The research team, supported by grants from NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, looked at 633 infants under 1 year old. They evaluated the impact of tobacco smoke, visible mold, pets, siblings, daycare attendance and breastfeeding practices on both allergic rhinitis and upper respiratory infections.

Their results will be published in the June issue of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. Infants exposed to 20 or more cigarettes per day were almost 3 times more likely to have allergic rhinitis at age 1 as those who weren't exposed. Infants living in high mold homes were over 5 times more likely to have upper respiratory infections than those that lived in homes where mold wasn't visible. Infants with 2 or more older siblings actually had fewer rhinitis episodes in the first year. Race, gender, pet ownership and breastfeeding practices didn't make any difference.

Some of these links have been reported before in older children and adults, but this is the first study to look at all these factors in infants under the age of 1. These findings highlight the importance of environmental exposures during the first year of life. Don't smoke around your infants, and try to get rid of any mold in your house.

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