If you’ve ever wondered if you’re allergic to cigarette smoke, you’re not alone.
Many people experience what they believe to be smoke allergy symptoms when they come into contact with tobacco smoke, such as from a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. People of all ages report this reaction.
People who feel that they’re allergic to cigarette smoke describe a number of common symptoms, including:
- difficulty breathing
- watery eyes
- runny nose
- additional allergy-related conditions, such as sinusitis and bronchitis
Am I allergic to cigarette smoke?
Allergy-like symptoms can be caused by tobacco smoke, but most doctors believe that they are not reactions to the smoke.
Rather, because tobacco products (especially cigarettes) are filled with many toxic ingredients and irritating chemicals, some people have a reaction to those specific substances. People who suffer from allergic rhinitis appear to be more sensitive to these chemicals than others.
Tobacco and contact dermatitis
Touching tobacco products is closely tied to an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis. This skin rash is common among people who work with tobacco products every day, but it can also show up when someone touches tobacco.
Chewing tobacco can cause the same type of allergic reaction in the mouth and on the lips.
Doctors are unsure what exactly causes the skin to inflame when it comes into contact with tobacco leaves, but it’s best to avoid tobacco if you experience a reaction after contact.
Not only can tobacco-smoke exposure trigger allergy symptoms, it may also be responsible for generating some allergies in the first place.
A 2016 review suggests that children are more likely to develop childhood allergies if they are exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke (or are born to a mother who has smoked during pregnancy) in the perinatal period (before and after birth). The relationship isn’t clear, and the review calls for more research to understand the potential connection between environmental cigarette smoke and childhood allergies.
Allergy tests can be performed in an allergist’s office. If you do not know how to find an allergist, look for an office that specializes in ear, nose, and throat (ENT) health and ask them if they perform allergy testing.
In most cases, a tobacco-smoke allergy test will actually test for allergies to the chemicals in cigarettes. A clinician will apply small drops of different allergens to parts of your skin (often your forearm) and wait to see which allergens produce a reaction on your skin.
Allergies to tobacco products can be managed in the same fashion that other allergies are managed: with medication and avoidance.
Common over-the-counter remedies for tobacco allergies include throat lozenges and decongestants.
Nonetheless, avoidance is better than any medicine.
Here are a few tips for minimizing your exposure to tobacco products that may cause an allergic reaction for you:
- Stop smoking.
- If possible, avoid areas where you will be exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Wear a surgical mask if you cannot avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Ask loved ones to wash their hands and clean their mouth after smoking.
- Get exercise, which may motivate you to quit smoking in the short term and may help you avoid a relapse.
- Boost your immune system’s functionality with a balanced diet and an adequate amount of sleep.