• People in their mid-40s whose mothers smoked when they were children are more likely to have airflow obstruction, even if they’ve never touched a cigarette. (AAP)
The harmful effects of lighting up around your child may last decades. New research out today shows that children raised by a smoking mother could experience breathing difficulties in their mid-40s.
By
Yasmin Noone

11 Mar 2016 - 11:00 AM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2016 - 12:22 PM

If your mum smoked heavily when you were a child, you might have trouble breathing by the time you reach your mid-40s, new Australian-led research has found.

Research published today in the journal Respirology, suggests that people aged between 43 and 47 whose mothers smoked when they were children are more likely to have airflow obstruction, even if they’ve never touched a cigarette.

The study, which only focused on maternal smoking, also states that young school-aged children of smoking mothers are more prone to developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in middle age, especially if they smoke into adulthood.

“People who are more susceptible to develop a lung disease like COPD and are smokers themselves or have other risk factors, might develop the symptoms of COPD earlier than usual,” says the study’s lead author, Dr Jennifer Perret from the Allergy and Lung Health Unit at the Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

“If there is any concern or symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough or phlegm, they should seek the advice of a doctor who could also measure their lung function.” 

Dr Perret explains that adult sons of mothers who smoked were particularly more likely to develop COPD in middle-age.

If there is any concern or symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough or phlegm, they should seek the advice of a doctor who could also measure their lung function.

Although there is no definitive reason why, Dr Perret says this "might be" because mothers smoked during pregnancy. Nicotine might affect the male and female foetus differently because of the gender variance in lung size and lung growth.

“Our study measured mothers smoking in childhood but we think that in the 1960s [and 70s], there was a lot of overlap where mothers also smoked during pregnancy, as nicotine can cross the placental barrier and cause effects.”

The University of Melbourne expert adds that middle-aged non-smokers might also experience a change in their lung function if their mother smoked, even if they don’t notice any symptoms. This is because a change can only be detected via a lung function test.

“These findings reinforce current public health messages that recommend people not to smoke, especially for pregnant women and young mothers.”

“They generally also reinforce that maintaining good lung health can be a lifelong process, starting in early life.”

According to the study’s authors, almost 40 per cent of children around the world have at least one parent who smokes.

This shows that “the long-term lung function consequences of maternal smoking exposure is now crucial,” the authors write.  

“…Identifying those most at risk might provide an opportunity for a more individualised approach to the prevention of COPD.”

Previous studies have linked maternal smoking with reduced airway function in children, particularly for those with early-onset asthma who had mothers that smoked during pregnancy.

Quit Victoria warns that babies born to mothers exposed to second-hand smoke may have a slightly lower birth weight than they would otherwise; face a greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; and have higher rates of lung or airways infections during their first two years of life compared to children of non-smokers.

This study marks the first long-term, population-based research to associate heavy smoking mums who light up around young children with lung function in middle age.

However, this study marks the first long-term, population-based research to associate heavy smoking mums who light up around young children with lung function in middle age.

The researchers used data from an Australian cohort study, documenting the smoking history of parents and respiratory health of children, aged around seven years old.

A group of original children were then re-tested in their mid-40s, using breathing tests to measure their lung function.

“These tests can identify people with low lung function even when they do not have symptoms, and include measures of airway narrowing and the lungs ability to transfer gases,” Dr Perrett says.

“Using this longitudinal data, we were able to examine the relationship between mothers smoking and lung function of these children when they were adults, while taking personal smoking and asthma into account.”

The study is ongoing, with researchers to examine the long-term effects of second hand smoke on children as they become adults, and age over time. 

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