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Ear Infections & Secondhand Smoke

Studies have long shown that secondhand smoke increases an infant's chance of developing respiratory problems, including asthma. Now add another concern to the list: According to research conducted at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, a child who lives with two or more smokers during the first three years of life has almost twice the risk of developing a middle-ear infection as one whose parents don't smoke.

The researchers, who tested the nicotine level in hair samples from 625 first graders, also found that when a child's mother smokes, the risk becomes greater than when other household members smoke. "Kids whose moms smoke more than ten cigarettes a day are at a 68 percent higher risk of middle-ear infection than kids whose moms smoke less than that," says Carol Adair, Ph.D., a pediatric epidemiologist and coauthor of the study. "If any other person in the house smoked that many cigarettes, the risk was 40 percent higher."

Blowing smoke away from the child, opening a window, turning on a fan, and burning a candle (which some smokers believe directs smoke toward the ceiling) are all ineffective, says Adair. The best remedy, of course, is to quit. But parents who haven't been able to kick the habit can reduce their child's risk by smoking outdoors or in a closed-off, well-ventilated room. Also avoid lighting up in the car and don't smoke if you're breastfeeding; both subject children to more nicotine and smoke. And make sure that your baby's childcare environment is smoke-free. "Parents put kids in car seats and get them immunized," says Adair. "Taking steps to eliminate secondhand smoke is another important protective measure."