How Secondhand Smoke Impacts Children’s Eyes and Hearts

Young girl riding in car covering nose from breathing in cigarette smoke.

For years, Americans have known that breathing secondhand smoke isn’t healthy. Secondhand smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, putting both adults and children at risk for medical problems. These problems include ear infections, pneumonia, coughing, sore throat, sniffling, sneezing and asthma. Recently, researchers found that secondhand smoke also impacts children’s eyes and hearts.

Damages sight

Researchers at The Chinese University of Hong Kong state that secondhand smoke affects up to 40% of kids. To understand the impact of secondhand smoke, they studied 1,400 kids ages 6 to 8 years old who were exposed to it. They also studied 941 kids who were not exposed.

The scientists evaluated the participants’ choroid tissue, which delivers nutrients to the retina. It also provides the majority of blood flow in the eyes. The study found that children exposed to secondhand smoke had choroid tissue that was 6 to 8 micrometers thinner than that of unexposed children. The choroid tissue is critical to the health of one’s eyes. So discovering this thinning led scientists to believe that children affected by secondhand smoke may be at higher risk for sight problems later in life.

Decreases heart function

Kids exposed to secondhand smoke while growing up seem to be at greater risk for developing heart problems when they are older, too. Researchers at the University of Tasmania in Australia evaluated the health records of over 1,100 adults ages 45 and older. Nearly 54% of all study participants were exposed to secondhand smoke during childhood.

Next, using ultrasound imaging, researchers evaluated the participants’ left ventricle, which is the heart’s primary pumping chamber. If it does not pump correctly, the heart cannot work accurately. Improper pumping can cause a heart attack, stroke or even death. The study revealed that secondhand smoke weakens the structure of the heart.

In addition, researchers are evaluating other ways secondhand smoke can impact kids’ health. Specific studies include assessing whether children exposed to secondhand smoke experience more blood pressure problems, or plaque buildup in their arteries, as adults.