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Are kids exposed to secondhand smoke more vulnerable in surgery?
Q: My 4-year-old son is scheduled for surgery next month to repair a hernia. One of my friends heard something on the news about children of smokers having more problems in surgery. My husband smokes. Should we be concerned?
A: A recent study found that children living with smokers had more breathing problems during surgery. The researchers from Harvard followed approximately 400 children having surgery for a variety of conditions; approximately 40 percent of them had been exposed to secondhand smoke at home. The children who lived with smokers were significantly more likely to having respiratory complications (such as secreting too much mucus, holding their breath and having airway constriction) during surgery and in the recovery room.

These children were also more likely to need additional oxygen and medication to open their airways, and to stay in the hospital overnight. In general, the more cigarettes smoked per day in the home, the more likely the child was to have breathing problems during surgery.

Be sure to talk with your child's surgeon and anesthesiologist about his exposure to smoke at home. Your son might need more medical attention to his airways during surgery and recovery, and he may need to stay in the hospital overnight.

This can also be a good opportunity for your husband to consider cutting down or quitting smoking to protect the health of everyone in the family. Here are few suggestions:
  • Especially in the weeks leading up to your son's surgery, try to reduce his exposure to secondhand smoke. Ask your husband to smoke only outdoors—not indoors or in the car—and always away from your son.
  • Suggest that your husband talk with his doctor about ways to quit smoking such as the nicotine patch or gum, and support groups.
For more information about quitting smoking, call 1-800-QUITNOW or visit the website www.smokefree.gov.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician