April 19, 2010 -- Secondhand smoke exposure contributes to as many as 40% of the roughly 30 million cases of chronic sinusitis among adults in the U.S., a new study shows.
Chronic sinusitis, also known as rhinosinusitis, is defined as allergic and non-allergic sinus inflammation lasting at least three months. Symptoms can include, but are not limited to, nasal congestion, facial pain, headache, and daytime or nighttime coughing.
In a 2006 report, the surgeon general estimated that 60% of nonsmokers in the U.S., or 126 million adults and children, are routinely exposed to secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke exposure has been implicated as a risk factor for a number of respiratory ailments, including asthma and other conditions including heart disease, sudden infant death syndrome, and cancers of the lung and sinus.
Sinusitis and Secondhand Smoke
Researchers compared secondhand smoke exposures among patients with chronic sinusitis to non-sinus sufferers matched for age, sex, and race in four settings: home, work, public settings, and private social gatherings. None of the study participants smoked.
Participants with chronic sinusitis were almost twice as likely as those without sinusitis to report secondhand smoke exposure at social gatherings (51% vs. 28%) and slightly more than twice as likely to report exposure at work (18% vs.7%).
The patients were also more likely to report exposure at home and in public places, although these associations did not reach statistical significance.
The more places people reported being exposed to tobacco smoke, the higher their risk for chronic sinusitis, study researcher C. Martin Tammemagi, DVM, PhD, tells WebMD.
Tammemagi is an associate professor at Brock University in Ontario, Canada.
The research appears in the April issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. It was funded by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute in Miami.
"Ours is one of the first studies to connect secondhand smoke to rhinosinusitis," Tammemagi says. "Our research confirms that people are being exposed in large numbers and it indicates that about 40% of cases are caused by secondhand smoke."
The finding that private social gatherings are an important contributor to secondhand smoke exposure was somewhat surprising, Tammemagi says.
"Certainly from a public policy point of view, limiting these exposures is not easy," he says. "But people with sinus problems need to recognize that exposure when they go to a party or a card game at a friend's house puts them at risk."
Nonsmokers More Vulnerable
Sinus specialist and sinus sufferer Jordan S. Josephson, MD, says it is no surprise that exposure to secondhand smoke triggers symptoms.
Josephson practices at Lenox hill Hospital in New York City and is the author of the book Sinus Relief Now.
"I experience it all the time," he tells WebMD. "If I walk past someone who is smoking I can feel the effects almost immediately."
He says nonsmokers are probably more vulnerable to secondhand smoke than smokers because they are exposed less often.
"More study is needed, but I believe these studies will confirm just how bad secondhand cigarette smoke is for the lungs and sinuses," he says.