Secondhand Smoke and Sensorineural Hearing Loss in Adolescents

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Archives of Otolaryngology

Secondhand smoke, the perils of which continue to grow, has now been linked to possible hearing loss in adolescents.

Although exposure rates vary across regions and by other factors including race, socioeconomic status and gender, about half of the nation’s population is exposed to secondhand smoke and the detrimental effects of SHS have been shown across all demographic groups.

When exposed to tobacco prenatally and while in childhood, SHS has been linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), increased asthma severity, behavioral and cognitive problems, otitis media (OM) – or ear infection – and low birth weight, among other maladies.

In the auditory system – which is the sensory system for hearing – SHS is a known risk factor for OM. In addition, recurrent acute OM is more common in the nearly 60 percent of children exposed to SHS in the United States.

Secondhand smoke exposure might also have an impact on auditory development, leading to sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), according to this new study reported in the Archives of Otolaryngology.

To conduct the study, data was analyzed from 2,288 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2005-06). Participants were evaluated during a home interview to determine family medical history, current medical conditions of the participants, medications being used, whether smokers lived in the households, and general socioeconomic and demographic information.

The researchers found that SHS exposure has been linked to diseases in the United States affecting everyone from the young to the elderly. This particular study found that SHS is found to be associated with hearing loss in adolescents in the United States.

In multiple variable analyses, controlling for gender, race, age and poverty, exposure to tobacco smoke was associated with a 1.83-fold increased risk of hearing loss among adolescents.

The study shows that exposure to tobacco smoke has a detrimental effect on the microvasculature – which is the body’s network of smaller, finer blood cells. The inner ear actively produces and consumes energy so it relies on adequate blood supply. This could expose the ear to tobacco-related alterations in blood flow, according to the report.

The report notes that although active hearing screening is currently performed on young children, adolescents are not routinely evaluated for hearing loss, and are most often times only screened for hearing loss when risk factors are present. Self-reported hearing loss is not adequate in this regard because more than 80 percent were unaware of hearing difficulties in this national sample, according to the researchers.

For the free abstract click here.