Children who are around smokers face a higher risk of early emphysema when they become nonsmoking adults, perhaps because their lungs never totally recovered from secondhand smoke exposure, new research suggests.
Researchers reached their conclusions after conducting CT scans on 1,781 non-smokers from six communities in the United States. About half of them grew up in homes with at least one smoker.
"We were able to detect a difference on CT scans between the lungs of participants who lived with a smoker as a child and those who did not," Gina Lovasi, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, said in a university news release. "Some known harmful effects of tobacco smoke are short-term, and this new research suggests that effects of tobacco smoke on the lungs may also persist for decades."
The researchers didn't find a link between childhood exposure to tobacco smoke and lung function. "However, emphysema may be a more sensitive measure of damage compared with lung function in this relatively healthy cohort," Lovasi noted.
The findings are published in the December 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.