New research shows that second-hand smoke could be to blame for chronic itchy, runny nose and sinus woes - also known as rhinosinusitis -- that plague one in every six US adults.

In a study conducted by Dr. C. Martin Tammemagi of Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario and his colleagues found that exposure to second-hand smoke -- especially on the job and at private social functions like parties and weddings -- upped the likelihood of suffering from chronic rhinosinusitis. In fact, they calculated that passive smoking is behind 40 percent of all cases of the condition.

Two studies have suggested a link between second-hand smoke and chronic rhinosinusitis, Tammemagi and his colleagues note in their report in the journal Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery.

To investigate further, they looked at 306 non-smoking adults who developed the condition and 306 non-smoking, healthy controls, surveying them about their exposure to second-hand smoke at home, work, public places, and at private social functions.

Nine percent of the controls and 13 percent of the patients were exposed to second-hand smoke at home; 7 percent of controls and 19 percent of patients were exposed at work; 84 percent of controls and 90 percent of patients were exposed in public places; and 28 percent of controls and 51 percent of patients were exposed at private social functions.

After taking socioeconomic status, air pollution, exposure to chemicals and other relevant factors into account, Tammemagi and his colleagues found that exposure at work nearly tripled the risk of chronic rhinosinusitis, while exposure at private social functions more than doubled it.

While home and public exposure both also increased risk, the increase wasn't statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance. But the more places where a person was exposed to second-hand smoke, the greater their risk; it roughly doubled for each passive smoking venue.

He noted that he and his colleagues gathered data for the current study among patients treated at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, at around the time measures to control second-hand smoke exposure were first introduced in the US.

People get the impression that government agencies, public health agencies are trying to suppress the public's exposure to second-hand smoke, the researcher added. Our data indicate that over half the people, 53 percent of the controls, had some exposure to second-hand smoke and that was surprisingly high. I was suspecting or hoping that it would be less than that.

While progress is being made on exposure at home and at work, he added, public places and at private social events still need some work.

SOURCE: Archives of Otolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, April 2010.