Researchers have found evidence to add hearing loss to secondhand smoke’s growing list of negative health effects.
Unusual as it sounds, a recent analysis shows secondhand smoke may harm areas other than the respiratory system in teens.
Data taken from 1,533 U.S. participants between 12 and 19 years of age revealed that individuals with higher levels of one nicotine compound in their blood were also more likely to have a common type of hearing loss in at least one ear. Among the 799 participants exposed to secondhand smoke (measured by higher amounts of the compound), 11.8 percent showed noticeable levels of hearing loss compared to 7.5 percent from the 754 participants not exposed to smoke.
The risk of hearing loss among participants exposed to secondhand smoke was 1.5 times that of the non-exposure group.
Since it would be unethical for researchers to intentionally exposes individuals to cigarette smoke, the team relied on observational data in which participants were interviewed and gave researchers blood samples throughout a one-year time period. Because of this, it’s difficult to parse through other factors that would skew the results. Prenatal exposure, duration of secondhand smoke exposure and other information about how much noise participants tolerated were not available, which limits the researchers’ ability to be sure that second-hand smoke is the only culprit behind hearing loss.
Though the experiment included adolescents, it’s possible the findings could hold true for younger children as well. For these younger groups, untreated hearing loss can result in lapses in speech and cognitive development, the authors write. Hearing aids are usually a viable solution, but they can run between $1,000 and $4,000 per aid, according to one source.
So far, the science behind secondhand smoke’s effects on hearing remains a mystery. Scientists decided to study the topic after a similar trend was found in people who smoke. It’s known that smoking can limit blood and nutrients from reaching vessels in the ears and can negatively affect the body’s immune system, paving the way for ear infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations also highlight the relationship between secondhand smoke exposure and some common ear infections.
The paper’s authors suggest that younger people who are often exposed to smoke should receive regular auditory screenings. Self-reporting the hearing loss, on the other hand, is not as effective since nearly 80 percent of individuals with sensorineural hearing loss — the type studied — are unaware of it.
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