Tobacco, and other ingredients in tobacco products, can potentially cause allergies or allergy-like symptoms.
Cigarettes and electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) contain thousands of chemicals, many of which can irritate the body. They may trigger allergy-like symptoms, such as watery eyes, sneezing, or wheezing. They may also cause or worsen certain conditions, such as allergic rhinitis and contact dermatitis.
This article discusses whether people can be allergic to tobacco products and explains how tobacco smoke can affect children. We also list some common allergy symptoms and explain how doctors diagnose and treat allergies.
In theory, a person could be allergic to tobacco. However, it is more likely that any allergy-like symptoms are due to the added chemicals in tobacco products.
According to the
People may develop allergies to the ingredients or additives in cigarettes and other tobacco products.
As with other allergies, symptoms may include:
Doctors typically recommend allergy testing to help identify substances that provoke an allergic reaction.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), the most common type of allergy test is a skin prick test (SPT). This involves applying small amounts of suspected allergens onto the skin, and then pricking the skin with a tiny needle to check for an inflammatory response. Swelling at the site indicates an allergic reaction.
If a person has a suspected allergy to tobacco or other cigarette ingredients, the allergist will apply small amounts of these substances during the SPT.
Allergic rhinitis (AR) is inflammation of the nose resulting from exposure to an allergen. Symptoms may include:
- itchy nose and eyes
- nasal congestion
- a runny nose
- postnasal drip, which is a buildup of mucus in the throat
A 2021 review notes that exposure to tobacco smoke and other indoor air pollutants can significantly increase the risk of AR and worsen symptoms.
Prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke may also increase an individual’s susceptibility to AR in childhood and adulthood. A
Contact dermatitis (CD) is a type of eczema that occurs when the skin comes into contact with a particular substance. According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), there are two types of CD:
- Irritant CD: This occurs when a substance comes into direct contact with the skin, damaging its outer layers.
- Allergic CD: This occurs when a substance triggers the immune system to produce an allergic skin reaction.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) warns that secondhand tobacco smoke can cause serious health problems in children, including:
- wheezing and coughing
- severe and frequent asthma attacks in children with asthma
- increased susceptibility to bronchitis and pneumonia
- increased susceptibility to ear infections
Research suggests that exposure to tobacco smoke in early life may also make individuals more susceptible to allergies. Medical professionals refer to this as “allergic sensitization (AS).” Doctors may test for AS using an SPT.
A 2020 study investigated the effects of tobacco smoke and other indoor air pollutants on AS in young children. Among other findings, the researchers found that children exposed to tobacco smoke and other indoor pollutants before 2 years of age were significantly more likely to demonstrate a positive SPT response compared to children with no exposure to tobacco smoke and other indoor pollutants by this age.
According to the AAFA, the best way to treat and prevent an allergy is to avoid exposure to the substance that triggers it. For people who are allergic to tobacco products’ ingredients, avoidance may include quitting smoking and vaping or limiting time around others who smoke or vape.
Avoidance of tobacco products may be more difficult for people exposed to secondhand smoke, as they have less control over their exposure.
It is theoretically possible for a person to develop an allergy to tobacco. However, the irritant chemicals in tobacco products are the most likely cause of allergy-like symptoms among smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke.
Research suggests smoking may cause or worsen conditions that produce allergy symptoms, such as allergic rhinitis and irritant contact dermatitis. Secondhand exposure to tobacco smoke may also increase the risk of severe respiratory conditions in children.
People with a confirmed or suspected allergy to tobacco, or the ingredients in tobacco products, should avoid exposure to these products. For smokers, this may mean seeking help to quit smoking. For nonsmokers, this may mean avoiding spending time around smokers or carrying medications to prevent anaphylaxis.