Secondhand Smoke Linked to Hearing Loss

Only last week we reported that a news study had found children exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes are likelier to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now, another emerging study has revealed that tobacco smoke exposure can double the risk for hearing loss in teenagers. This study is the first to point to this possible side effect of secondhand smoke.

The study appears in this month’s issue of Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery and was conducted by New York University’s School of Medicine researchers.

“More than half of all children in the U.S. are exposed to secondhand smoke, so our finding that it can lead to hearing loss in teenagers has huge public health implications,” said Anil Lalwani, MD, professor of professor of otolaryngology, physiology and neuroscience, and pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine, according to a press release that appeared in Science Daily. Dr. Lalwani led the research. “We need to evaluate how we deal with smoking in public places and at home, as well as how often and when we screen children for hearing loss,” he added.

Secondhand smoke has been linked to a variety of health issues; contains over 4,000 substances, including over 50 known or suspected carcinogens; and is linked to many diseases in adults and children, such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, asthma, coronary heart disease, lung and sinus cancers, sinus problems, mental problems, and hearing loss. In addition to recent links to ADHD, smoking has been linked to colorectal cancer, creating damage in the body just minutes after inhaling for the first time, increasing risks for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), and significantly increasing arterial stiffness in people as young as 18 to 3

Science Daily noted that living with a smoker increases risks for death from heart disease and lung cancer; children exposed to smoke can experience more severe asthma attacks and smoke is blamed for over 750,000 middle ear infections, citing the American Cancer Society.

Over 1,500 teens—aged 12-19—were participants in the nationwide research and selected from the 2005-06 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, according to Science Daily, which collects health information from children and adults in the U.S. The teens were first evaluated at home with a medical center follow-up involving hearing tests and blood tests for cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, explained Science Daily.

The teens’ blood metabolite levels were measured and those exposed to secondhand smoke were likelier to experience sensorineural hearing loss, typically a result of cochlea problems, said Science Daily. The hearing loss seen was the type usually attributed to aging.

Teenagers exposed to smoke exhibited reduced auditory performance across each sound frequency tested, most specifically in the mid to high frequencies, which are critical to understanding speech; teens with increased cotinine levels—an indicator of increased exposure—were likelier to have what Science Daily described as one-sided-or unilateral-low-frequency hearing loss. According to the researchers, “tobacco smoke is independently associated with an almost 2-fold increase in the risk of hearing loss among adolescents.”

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