May 18th, 2009
05:02 PM ET

Can cigarette smoke help allergies?

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer

Since allergy season began in late March, I have been trying to avoid settings where a lot of people are likely to be smoking. Even outside in Atlanta’s hipster neighborhood of Little Five Points, I found myself coughing uncontrollably last week when walking past a group of people smoking on a corner. Allergists agree that cigarette smoke aggravates allergies.

But a new study recommended by the Faculty of 1000 Biology challenges this conventional wisdom. Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands took mast cells, which play a role in the immune response to allergies, from mice, and treated them with a smoke-infused solution.

They found that the smoke treatment prevented the mast cells from releasing inflammation-induced proteins, which is what normally happens when exposed to allergens. The smoke solution did not affect other mast cell immune functions, the researchers said. This anti-allergy effect would likely hold true for humans, they wrote.

The general idea that smoke would help allergies is surprising, said Dr. Stanley Fineman, allergist with the Atlanta Allergy and Asthma Clinic.

“In humans, we know from the patients that we see that cigarette smoke is very irritating to the mucosa, the lining of the airways,” he said. “People who have allergies tend to have inflamed respiratory mucosa.”

Years of patient work has shown that smoke is detrimental to people with allergies, he said.

Whatever benefits to allergies cigarette smoke may theoretically carry, the costs are hard to ignore: Cigarette smoking accounts for about 30 percent of all cancer deaths nationwide, according the American Cancer Society. About 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, are caused by smoking. Smoking can also lead to other types of cancer.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (1,699 Responses)
  1. Kraig Rasool

    To even suggest that cigarette smoke may help those with allergies
    (such as myself) is shamefully preposterous! I had a relative who
    smoked on a regular basis who has now passed from cancer, and
    literally coughed herself to death....Even if rats seemed a tad better
    with ihaling smoke, the adverse side effects totally outweigh the
    benefit...How about not cutting down the many trees that absorb carbon monoxide and other air-stealers so that we can breathe cleaner naturally filtered air. It would seem like an everlasting nightmare to me to lend a hand to those who experiment with this new
    study, therefore I strongly stand on the side of those who protest against using smoke as additive to help people with any allergies.

    May 19, 2009 at 10:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jake

      Perhaps cigarette smoke is not the only smoke that would help allergies? I have had them for more years than I care to remember. But during the summer, I always remember that sitting around the fire I would sneeze a couple of good times, then as long as sat near the smoke, i wouldn't even sniff. Coincidence? I think not.

      September 18, 2011 at 16:49 | Report abuse |
  2. Pia

    How long do you think it will take to find a cure for swine flu?

    May 19, 2009 at 22:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Franky

    Yeah, that's too much...but on the other hand, maybe I should start smoking, LOL!! Na'h, I'm playing, numbers don't lie...

    While I admit it sounds a bit complicated and the first thing came to my mind is, win lose situation or vice versa, slow down buddy. I like the fact that they are researching but let's get the facts right, let's get em right...

    May 20, 2009 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jack Gas

    Anyone who really has allergies, knows that cigarette smoke does help. Wonder why the scientists are just starting to admit it?

    For people with psyco issues that manifest as sneezing, are not helped by cigarette smoke, because its all in their head.

    May 22, 2009 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Melodymaker



    May 27, 2009 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Physiologyprof

    Remember that these cells were treated outside of the body. Please don't use your body as a petrie dish. Wait until the mechanism od action is known and in vivo clinical trials are perfomed.

    One possiblity – nicotine or another chemical in the smoke binds to mast cells and activates an intracellular inhibitory pathway, but the net effect of the many substances in cigarette smoke activate respiratory allergies.

    To Jack – the nicotine in cigarettes may mask some allergic symptoms via nicotinic receptors, making you feel better temporarily, especially if the symptoms are psychogenic. But smoke niether neutralizes the allergies nor confers respiratory system health!

    June 2, 2009 at 18:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mike Riley

    Obviously this article isn't meant to convey the suggestion that you should smoke to help your allergies, but stumbling across this article confirmed something that I had suspected myself. I am a smoker, and have been for a few years now, recently I started severely cutting back on my smoking habits, and found that I have allergies. I wondered if there was any sort of correlation between curbing my cigarette smoking and the onset of my allergies, so I did a little testing: I measured how much I was smoking each day and recorded how bad my allergies were as well, I found that there was definitely a correlation indicating that the smoking was preventing allergies.

    In any case, to reiterate, I don't think that smoking is a good way to stop allergies but I do think that it can have that effect.

    July 21, 2009 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. David Harris

    Most allergies can be treated by corticosteroids and also some antihistamine blockers.-*-

    May 25, 2010 at 15:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Dan

    Very interesting. I recently, about 45 days ago switched from smoking to using snus.

    This year for the first time since I was a teenager (and on reflection since I started smoking) grass pollen is tearing me up, red itchy eyes, mucus draining, scratchy throat, runny nose, etc.

    May 30, 2010 at 00:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michele

      I have found the same thing. I actually went back to smoking 2 cigarettes a day for just that reason. Although I completely realize this is damaging in other ways, I find my allergy symptoms, as well as immune response to winter illness to be better when I am a light smoker. I relate it to echinacea usage. It is a potentially harmful substance, but in low doses, there is some evidence that it helps kick the immune system into high gear.

      Let me be clear that I am in no way encouraging anyone to smoke. It's a nasty, horrible habit in which the bad far outways the good. I've just found it to have some benefits.

      November 19, 2010 at 15:13 | Report abuse |
  10. Electric Griddle

    allergies can be a menacing sickness specially if you get stuffy nose and rashes all overy your body each day ~~'

    December 4, 2010 at 02:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. TRauck

    I thought this to be true! I went and picked up a pack just because I couldn't stop sneezing and guess what; now I'm fine after smoking one. I have never really been a smoker except at work occasionally to have a reason to take a break. I wouldn't suggest doing this, but for someone who doesn't get addicted easily like myself, it actually helps during horrible allergy attacks.

    May 1, 2011 at 05:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ubemaso Neversleep

    It can very uncomfortable to call home using submit nose spill because it could cause any mucous develop with your neck ... Submit sinus get can even be caused by allergic reactions ...sore throat allergies

    January 29, 2012 at 08:06 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 12, 2012 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Scott

    I had crippling allergies as a kid and they mysteriously disappeared when I started smoking cigarettes. I quit a while back and ever since I can hardly leave my house due to allergies. You naysayers can doubt all you want; I know from first hand experience that cigarettes prevent allergies.

    October 23, 2012 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Sheilah

    As someone who has been allergic to cigarettes her whole life (eyes, nose, throat, and lungs swell shut, and then I vomit mucous for WEEKS afterward)... and now my allergy 4 weeks ago progressed to anaphylaxis... those of you without allergies, look it up. Now I get to carry an EpiPen since cigarette smoke, not just second-hand, but first-hand, can actually kill me. Since cigarettes are my only systemic, life-threatening allergy and I have NO other allergies to anything else, I find this "recommendation" pretty damn offensive, because all I need now is people running around puffing death fumes into the environment that I'm trying to breathe.

    Especially offensive are the implications of this, regardless of the fact that it can kill me personally. Studies have shown for years that aside from the fact that it can kill all of you and the rest of us slowly with cancer, that also children who are exposed to second-hand smoke (and not just from parents smoking indoors, but also even just parents with smoke on their clothing and hands who smoke outside) are at greater risk for asthma and allergies by as early as age 4. It affects their whole life. So basically the poison that CAUSES your increased risk for allergies helps it? Pfft. Don't buy the hype. This is clearly a cigarette sponsored study and is a load of crap, and all of you addicted people know that the risks (death, killing those around you, making your children and friends sick, reducing your own lung capacity, emphysema, and the type of death from which you're going to die... a slow, slow painful one ...) are going to FAR outweigh the goofy benefits. And probably the mediating factor... the reason your "allergies" get better, is the benefit you're getting from the nicotine... the calming from the stress reduction. Probably if you figured out some healthy way, like diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, calming yourself down, whatever... to reduce your stress... ANYTHING other than smoking, you'd live a great healthy life. Unfortunately you're choosing nicotine to do it, and unfortunately you're killing everyone else around you because you don't have the sense, and CNN cannot be responsible enough to have the sense to promote sensible ideas.

    They don't control for these confounding variables in mice, and it's ludicrous to pretend that "smoking" has this health benefit.

    January 7, 2013 at 09:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Sheilah

    Made a mistake, not first-hand, of course that can kill me... but THIRD-hand. Smoke from people's clothing, and fumes on clothing from people who have been smoking who come up and get too close to me. I just had my 3rd Emergency visit in 3 weeks and have been 4 days in the hospital for anaphylaxis. Yeah, so I cannot be safe from smokers anywhere. It sucks. The delusion that "smoking is good for allergies" is ... frankly, B.S.

    January 7, 2013 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sheilah

    And Scott – above – I have no doubt that YOU felt better. There probably are a few people who smoked, decreased their stress and in effect because THEIR allergies (to other things, not cigarettes) calmed as the nicotine calmed their systems... but it was probably the stress reduction and NOT the toxins of cigarettes specifically that helped your allergies. I bet if you got an e-cig and kept your stress down, or quit smoking and found another way to keep your body and stress healthy that you would probably ALSO keep your allergies and asthma under control. I know dozens of people who have used mind-body techniques to keep their allergies under control.

    You are taking the "easy way" for you. In the meantime, you are poisoning dozens of the rest of us around you who do suffer from a different allergy and who are allergic, highly, to cigarettes. If you could smoke and keep it totally to yourself, I would say, "Go ahead, poison the crap outta yourself and more power to you!" And this is why I'm a huge proponent of e-cigs... I have actually bought 3 of them for friends already who wanted to quit, and helped them with it, because e-cigs do not release ANY of the chemicals that cigarettes do into the atmosphere. They have nicotine in them, but the nicotine is not released at all. The problem with cigarettes, and the ONLY problem I have with cigarettes, is the toxins that they release. I have friends who vaporize all kinds of other things, and I have no problem with vaporizers, or people who want to pop pills or snort whatever they want, because know what? At least their drug use isn't hurting anyone except themselves. No one can say that of cigarettes at all. Cigarettes kill. And kill the people around them. And not just the people who are in enclosed spaces with smokers. Now everyone smokes outside doors, and I cannot walk through those doors without developing anaphylactic shock. I cannot safely leave my apartment. I cannot safely go to work. Forget about me going out to see my friends. I technically live in a smoke free state, in a city that has been smoke free for nearly a decade. It doesn't matter, I've almost died 3 times in less than a month from it. Now my friends are dealing with the fact that their habit doesn't just damage their children, and the friends around them, but that it can literally kill someone they know on site if they flake and forget or at best send her to the hospital with a stick of adrenaline, and a month of steroid course that kills the immune system.

    The worst part is... I teach addiction and drug abuse courses. I know the psychology of it, and how difficult it is to quit. It certainly makes it feel a lot better to rationalize and justify and to think that everything you're doing has some good outcome. But we all have vices. I have vices, and things I just do. I am on meds, and sometimes I go out and drink. I shouldn't. I do it anyway. But I don't walk around pretending that drinking alcohol is GOOD for me. Don't pretend that smoking is good for you either, because it's a load. Accept the fact that you do something awful. Awful for you. Awful for those around you. And you don't care that it's awful, because you get something out of it, the same way I get something out of drinking. But pretending that it's actually "healthy"? Come ON.

    January 7, 2013 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. chono91

    Contrary to the rest of the comments, I recently picked up smoking ( about a year ago) and now that allergy season has hit, I feel 1000x better for a few hours after a cigarette. As soon as I start, I feel my nasal passages clear and my eyes stop watering. Now, there are defiantly alternatives, such as Immunotherapy which I use as well and do work much better than cigarettes/nicotine, but the intent of this article is the possible benefits of nicotine in relation to allergies. Yes, we all know smoking leads to cancer, we don't need to debate this, what we should be debating in a article such as this is

    A) personal experiences in relation to nicotine and allergies
    B) alternative intake methods of nicotine which is not dangerous and its effect on allergies
    C) Other research that has been found.

    Anyway, for those who are fueled by emotional deaths rather than science.. enjoy sharing your emotionally charged stories "omg how could you ever say nicotine was good?! I almost died, I know someone who almost died, everyone will die from cigarettes how dare science question what the government has propagated to the people!!"

    April 26, 2013 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Brian

    It's probably because cigarette smoking weakens your immune system. Pollen and ragweed don't actually harm anyone. Allergy symptoms are the result of your immune system overreacting to a harmless substance.Perhaps cigarettes weaken your immune system to the point were your immune system no longer overreacts. Here is a link to article about a Yale study that showed that people with allergies have very strong immune systems: http://medicalxpress.com/news/2012-04-allergy-misconceptions-hay-fever-good.html

    May 21, 2013 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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  22. Lori

    I will write this one more time to see if it goes threw. Cigarettes most definately help my allergies. They mildly dehydrate me and relax me so they do a similar thing as antihistimine without making me tired. I admit they also make me feel good. I can also say that they help to halt a cold sore if you think you are getting one. They stop the immune system from being overactive. I have been told they deplete zinc and for some zinc will trigger a lot of over active immune responses.

    August 6, 2013 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Viktor

    While obviously not a popular opinion, it *has*, in fact, been my experience that smoking cigarettes in the spring and early summer in Texas and Arkansas is the only thing that shields me from allergic reactions without the knockout power of over-the-counter anti histamines. Vapor 'smoking' doesn't seem to have nearly the same effect.

    May 15, 2014 at 12:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. RDF

    It would be interesting to learn if there is a correlation in people who see improved symptoms from cigarette smoke and pre-natal smoking.

    January 5, 2016 at 07:33 | Report abuse | Reply
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