Allergy to Smoke: The Causes, Dangers and How to Treat

Man with Allergic
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An allergy to smoke, or being allergic to cigarette smoke, is hard to define. A person may be allergic to the chemicals in cigarettes, which can cause a reaction like a runny nose. Taken as a whole though cigarettes may or may not cause allergies.

Table of Contents

  1. What is An Allergy to Smoke?
  2. Signs and Symptoms of Allergy to Cigarette Smoke
  3. Nicotine Allergy Symptoms
  4. How To Deal With Allergy To Smoke
  5. FAQ About Allergy to Smoke
  6. Final Thoughts About Allergy to Smoke

Table of Contents

  1. What is An Allergy to Smoke?
  2. Signs and Symptoms of Allergy to Cigarette Smoke
  3. Nicotine Allergy Symptoms
  4. How To Deal With Allergy To Smoke
  5. FAQ About Allergy to Smoke
  6. Final Thoughts About Allergy to Smoke

What Does an Allergy to Smoke Feel Like?

Cigarette smoke is known to be a risk factor in the development of autoimmune diseases and rheumatoid arthritis. Allergies in humans are a response of the immune system to different allergens. These allergens can be normal, everyday substances like:

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Animal hair

Allergens can also come in the form of different foods or drugs. Things like animal scratches and insect bites can also trigger an allergic reaction.

The body’s reaction to cigarette smoke does not qualify as an allergy to cigarettes, per se. It can cause people to get a runny nose or watery eyes. But the chemicals inside provoke this reaction, especially in people who already have a sensitivity, like asthma.

It is not the immune system fighting these particles like it would with an allergen. With that being said, there are so many different chemicals in tobacco, and a person may have a sensitivity to none of them, a few of them or all of them.

Only a test can determine an allergy to any of the thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke. People can be allergic to nicotine, for example.

Cigarette smoke is known to be a risk factor in the development of autoimmune diseases and rheumatoid arthritis. Allergies in humans are a response of the immune system to different allergens. These allergens can be normal, everyday substances like:

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Animal hair

Allergens can also come in the form of different foods or drugs. Things like animal scratches and insect bites can also trigger an allergic reaction.

The body’s reaction to cigarette smoke does not qualify as an allergy to cigarettes, per se. It can cause people to get a runny nose or watery eyes. But the chemicals inside provoke this reaction, especially in people who already have a sensitivity, like asthma.

It is not the immune system fighting these particles like it would with an allergen. With that being said, there are so many different chemicals in tobacco, and a person may have a sensitivity to none of them, a few of them or all of them.

Only a test can determine an allergy to any of the thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke. People can be allergic to nicotine, for example.

Allergy to Smoke Symptoms

It’s important to know the difference between the smoking effects on one’s body and the symptoms. Someone with a sensitivity to tobacco can experience:

  • Headaches
  • A runny nose
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing

These symptoms can appear thanks to the inhalation of active or passive smoke. Again, whether the chemicals cause these symptoms to appear in the first place is still in dispute.

Studies looking at whether cigarettes cause allergies have found different results. One found a link between exposure to SHS and chronic rhinosinusitis (congestion) in children. The study did stop short of blaming SHS for allergies though.

At the same time, one study found a “reduced-risk” of allergic sensitization, even in people with a family history of allergies, thanks to exposure to SHS.

One study from 2015 found that while “tobacco smoke exposure was associated with increased prevalence of rhinitis symptoms,” it was not associated “with allergic sensitization.” This study did not draw the link between allergies and smoking cigarettes either.

The truth is that no one knows what causes an allergy in some, while not in others. So it is difficult to say whether someone is allergic to smoking. It may be the chemicals or something else entirely that may cause their symptoms to manifest.

The only way to know for sure is to take an allergy test. The test will determine to what, if anything, a person is allergic to smoke.

Does Secondhand Smoke Affect Allergies?

Secondhand smoke affects a person’s allergies by irritating the nasal passages and other airways, resulting in inflammation. While these are not allergic reactions, they feel similar and cause people anxiety. Additionally, someone with seasonal allergies can have their condition exacerbated by the irritating effects of secondhand smoke.

The chemicals in smoke may cause an allergy to smoke in some people. Someone who believes he or she is allergic to these chemicals should be tested for allergens by an allergist or an ear, nose, throat doctor.

It’s important to know the difference between the smoking effects on one’s body and the symptoms. Someone with a sensitivity to tobacco can experience:

  • Headaches
  • A runny nose
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Watery eyes
  • Sneezing

These symptoms can appear thanks to the inhalation of active or passive smoke. Again, whether the chemicals cause these symptoms to appear in the first place is still in dispute.

Studies looking at whether cigarettes cause allergies have found different results. One found a link between exposure to SHS and chronic rhinosinusitis (congestion) in children. The study did stop short of blaming SHS for allergies though.

At the same time, one study found a “reduced-risk” of allergic sensitization, even in people with a family history of allergies, thanks to exposure to SHS.

One study from 2015 found that while “tobacco smoke exposure was associated with increased prevalence of rhinitis symptoms,” it was not associated “with allergic sensitization.” This study did not draw the link between allergies and smoking cigarettes either.

The truth is that no one knows what causes an allergy in some, while not in others. So it is difficult to say whether someone is allergic to smoking. It may be the chemicals or something else entirely that may cause their symptoms to manifest.

The only way to know for sure is to take an allergy test. The test will determine to what, if anything, a person is allergic to smoke.

Does Secondhand Smoke Affect Allergies?

Secondhand smoke affects a person’s allergies by irritating the nasal passages and other airways, resulting in inflammation. While these are not allergic reactions, they feel similar and cause people anxiety. Additionally, someone with seasonal allergies can have their condition exacerbated by the irritating effects of secondhand smoke.

The chemicals in smoke may cause an allergy to smoke in some people. Someone who believes he or she is allergic to these chemicals should be tested for allergens by an allergist or an ear, nose, throat doctor.

Does Nicotine Affect Allergies?

nicotine allergy
Yeexin Richelle/Shutterstock

Nicotine acts as a stimulant and allergies are, again, difficult to diagnose. The nicotine allerfy symptoms include:

  • A rash or hives
  • Watery eyes
  • A headache
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose

An allergic to nicotine is more common through skin contact than through inhalation. As one study pointed out, “Nicotine, a small molecule…that easily passes through the skin, has been demonstrated to act as a sensitizer only when contained within transdermal patches”.

An allergy to nicotine is different from Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs in tobacco harvesters exposed to the nicotine in the plants.

Symptoms of GTS are more severe and include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting

Smokers, and the general public, never develop GTS, as it only comes with heavy, daily exposure to wet tobacco plants. People manifest nicotine allergies in other ways.

Someone with a severe nicotine sensitivity may exhibit symptoms like:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing/difficulty breathing
  • Hives
  • Swelling of hands, face, lips or other parts of the body

The most common way is through the use of nicotine patches, but even that is rare. One study found that:

  • Out of fifty-eight people, only 16% reacted to a nicotine patch on their skin.

A more recent study found sensitivity to nicotine in one patient through both skin contact and inhalation when the patch was tested on ten other smokers though no reaction was noted.

nicotine allergy
Yeexin Richelle/Shutterstock

Nicotine acts as a stimulant and allergies are, again, difficult to diagnose. The nicotine allerfy symptoms include:

  • A rash or hives
  • Watery eyes
  • A headache
  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose

An allergic to nicotine is more common through skin contact than through inhalation. As one study pointed out, “Nicotine, a small molecule…that easily passes through the skin, has been demonstrated to act as a sensitizer only when contained within transdermal patches”.

An allergy to nicotine is different from Green Tobacco Sickness, which occurs in tobacco harvesters exposed to the nicotine in the plants.

Symptoms of GTS are more severe and include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Vomiting

Smokers, and the general public, never develop GTS, as it only comes with heavy, daily exposure to wet tobacco plants. People manifest nicotine allergies in other ways.

Someone with a severe nicotine sensitivity may exhibit symptoms like:

  • Coughing
  • Wheezing/difficulty breathing
  • Hives
  • Swelling of hands, face, lips or other parts of the body

The most common way is through the use of nicotine patches, but even that is rare. One study found that:

  • Out of fifty-eight people, only 16% reacted to a nicotine patch on their skin.

A more recent study found sensitivity to nicotine in one patient through both skin contact and inhalation when the patch was tested on ten other smokers though no reaction was noted.

How To Treat Cigarette Smoke Allergy?

There are several ways to deal with an allergy to smoke:

  • Avoidance: Do not permit people to smoke around you and avoid situations where it is present.
  • Medication: Certain medications can reduce the body’s immune response to allergens.
  • Immunotherapy: The treatment calls for injections, capsules, or dissolvable tablets containing purified allergen extracts. Immunotherapy can last several years.
  • Epinephrine: This medication is contained in a shot and reduces the reaction symptoms until the person can be taken to a hospital.

There are several ways to deal with an allergy to smoke:

  • Avoidance: Do not permit people to smoke around you and avoid situations where it is present.
  • Medication: Certain medications can reduce the body’s immune response to allergens.
  • Immunotherapy: The treatment calls for injections, capsules, or dissolvable tablets containing purified allergen extracts. Immunotherapy can last several years.
  • Epinephrine: This medication is contained in a shot and reduces the reaction symptoms until the person can be taken to a hospital.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Be Allergic to Cigarette Smoke?

There is no allergy to cigarette smoke, but the chemicals in cigarettes can cause an allergic reaction. An example is a nicotine allergy.

Does Cigarette Smoke Affect Allergies?

Exposure to cigarette smoke can cause difficulty breathing, watery eyes, and other reactions. These symptoms may feel like an allergy, but they are not; however, they can also worsen other allergies by irritating the nasal passages.

How Do You Test for Cigarette Smoke Allergies?

Someone who thinks he or she suffers from an allergy to the chemicals in cigarettes should seek an allergist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor to be tested for allergies. The tests performed will determine whether the chemicals present in smoke are causing an allergy. This test can be done by dropping samples of different allergens on the skin and seeing which causes an allergy.

Can You Get Asthma From Secondhand Smoke?

Evidence suggests secondhand smoke can cause asthma, but more research needs to be done to confirm whether this is true. However, the Centers for Disease Control have stated that secondhand smoke can trigger an asthma attack in a person with this condition.

Can You Be Allergic to Cigarette Smoke?

There is no allergy to cigarette smoke, but the chemicals in cigarettes can cause an allergic reaction. An example is a nicotine allergy.

Does Cigarette Smoke Affect Allergies?

Exposure to cigarette smoke can cause difficulty breathing, watery eyes, and other reactions. These symptoms may feel like an allergy, but they are not; however, they can also worsen other allergies by irritating the nasal passages.

How Do You Test for Cigarette Smoke Allergies?

Someone who thinks he or she suffers from an allergy to the chemicals in cigarettes should seek an allergist or an ear, nose, and throat doctor to be tested for allergies. The tests performed will determine whether the chemicals present in smoke are causing an allergy. This test can be done by dropping samples of different allergens on the skin and seeing which causes an allergy.

Can You Get Asthma From Secondhand Smoke?

Evidence suggests secondhand smoke can cause asthma, but more research needs to be done to confirm whether this is true. However, the Centers for Disease Control have stated that secondhand smoke can trigger an asthma attack in a person with this condition.

Closing Thoughts

People who smoke, especially indoors, can cause harm through second and thirdhand smoke more than through giving someone an allergy. Pets exposed to tobacco smoke can develop cancers and other smoking-related illnesses.

As far as allergies though, dogs and cats especially, can cause allergies, as pet dander is one of the most common allergens. A recent finding by the National Institute of Environmental Sciences found that households with pets had more airborne allergens inside than houses without pets.

Allergies do not happen overnight. It takes time for the body to create a response to a particular irritant. Someone needs to be exposed to a specific substance many times before they develop a reaction to it.

So if a person is not in regular contact with cigarette smoke, either active or passive, then it is unlikely they will develop an allergic reaction to it. A smoker can experience an allergy to smoke, like a runny nose, watery eyes, or even hives, when they smoke. But they should take an allergy test to find out what is causing their sensitivity.

People who smoke, especially indoors, can cause harm through second and thirdhand smoke more than through giving someone an allergy. Pets exposed to tobacco smoke can develop cancers and other smoking-related illnesses.

As far as allergies though, dogs and cats especially, can cause allergies, as pet dander is one of the most common allergens. A recent finding by the National Institute of Environmental Sciences found that households with pets had more airborne allergens inside than houses without pets.

Allergies do not happen overnight. It takes time for the body to create a response to a particular irritant. Someone needs to be exposed to a specific substance many times before they develop a reaction to it.

So if a person is not in regular contact with cigarette smoke, either active or passive, then it is unlikely they will develop an allergic reaction to it. A smoker can experience an allergy to smoke, like a runny nose, watery eyes, or even hives, when they smoke. But they should take an allergy test to find out what is causing their sensitivity.

Published: September 4, 2015 Updated: January 10, 2022


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3 comments on “Allergy to Smoke: The Causes, Dangers and How to Treat

  • Angie

    September 4, 2021 at 1:57 am

    I smoke cigarettes n the smoke burns my nose can I be allergy to the smoke

  • Erica Delgado

    May 19, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    I have a question about this? The study about smoking and allergies. A couple of the symptoms are runny nose and sneezing? So did these symptoms last all day? Or was it more apparent at night, or early morning?

  • Yi Xiang

    September 1, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks for the information. I’ve been repeatly allergic for one month and can’t find the cause of it. Now I see it’s because of my smoking recently.