Secondhand Smoke Can Cause Hearing Loss

Teenagers who have been exposed to secondhand smoke have about double the risk of hearing loss of those who had little or no exposure.

By Reader's Digest Editors

If you can’t manage to quit smoking to improve your own health, do it for your kids’ hearing. Teenagers who have been exposed to secondhand smoke have about double the risk of hearing loss of those who had little or no exposure, say researchers from the New York University School of Medicine.

They tested more than 1,500 adolescents ages 12 to 19 for blood levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine that forms when people are exposed to cigarette smoke, and then tested their ability to hear high-, medium-, and low-frequency sounds.

The more smoke the teens had been exposed to, the greater their risk of significant hearing loss. Those with the highest levels of exposure had nearly triple the risk of hearing loss.

Hearing impairment was especially marked in the mid- to high-frequency range, which means the adolescents may have difficulty understanding human speech. That could cause problems in school, where kids may be labeled troublemakers, misread social interactions, or be misdiagnosed with ADHD or other behavioral problems.

Surprisingly, some 80 percent of these kids had no idea that they had significant hearing loss.

More than half of American children and teenagers are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes. This exposure increases children’s risk of lung cancer, learning disabilities, heart disease, and an array of other diseases.

Scientists suggest that parents minimize their children’s exposure to tobacco smoke and that all children and teenagers exposed to secondhand smoke should be regularly screened for hearing loss, in case hearing aids are needed.

The results of the new study have “significant implications for public health in the United States,” said researchers.

Plus: 25 Ways to Stop Smoking Cigarettes

Sources: ABC, WebMD, Science Daily, Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, JAMA/Archives journals.

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