Smoking is bad for your lungs, and it’s pretty well established that it affects the lungs of people around you who breathe in the smoke as well. Now a growing body of evidence suggests that the effects may linger a lot longer and be felt far more distantly that previously recognized. Not only are the children of smokers affected by it, their grandchildren are as well. In fact, a recent study found that smoking increases the risk of your descendants developing asthma for at least three generations—meaning that not only children and grandchildren, but great-grandchildren of a smoker are at risk for asthma, even if the smoking ancestor never smokes around them.
Researchers think nicotine affects the genes, causing what is called epigenetic modification, resulting in heightened susceptibility to childhood asthma being passed further down. There are many risk factors for asthma, including exposure to other environmental contaminants or having other allergies. However, being descended from smokers can raise the odds of these or other triggers developing into asthma.
The good news is that people who have asthma as children sometimes outgrow it as they get older. Those who don’t need to take measures to avoid asthma attacks their whole lives. This generally means avoiding triggers such as cold air, airborne particles and allergens, stress, and some medications; there are a number of possible triggers, and they differ from person to person, so someone with asthma needs to learn to recognize and avoid the things that set them off. There are also medications that can be taken daily by patients who encounter their triggers particularly often. Anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids or beta agonoists can be taken daily with an inhaler, and drugs called leukotriene modifiers are taken orally to relieve symptoms for 24 hours.
Another approach used to treat asthma sufferers is immunotherapy. Asthma is often accompanied by—or the result of—dust and other respiratory allergies. Vaccines are available that can help desensitize patients to these allergens. A course of injections is initially administered to build up tolerance to the allergen, and that over the next few years a series of maintenance doses are given. In one study, this significantly reduced the number of days in which people experienced allergies and cut sick days from work by two-thirds.