Secondhand smoke, not just loud music, may harm teens' hearing

July 28, 2011

Teenagers may seem to be not listening but they actually may be having trouble hearing. And the reason may not always be their ubiquitous iPod earbuds, especially if they live in a home where someone smokes, new research has suggested. That study recommended that pediatricians consider secondhand smoke exposure to be a risk factor for hearing loss in adolescents and screen accordingly.

Teenagers may seem to be not listening but they actually may be having trouble hearing. And the reason may not always be their ubiquitous iPod earbuds, especially if they live in a home where someone smokes, new research has suggested.

A study in a recent issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery recommended that pediatricians consider secondhand smoke exposure to be a risk factor for hearing loss in adolescents and screen accordingly.

Approximately 60% of American children are exposed to secondhand smoke, which may also have the potential to have an effect on auditory development, leading to sensorineural hearing loss, according to researchers.

Researchers examined the risk factors for sensorineural hearing loss among 1,544 nonsmoking participants aged 12 to 19 years in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke had higher rates of low- and high-frequency hearing loss than peers with no secondhand smoke exposure-and the degree of hearing loss increased with the amount of cotinine (a biomarker for nicotine exposure) in the blood.

Because most teens do not have routine hearing exams, pediatricians may want to ask follow-up questions of “tuned out” teens, particularly because 82% of those who had hearing loss were unaware of it.

Monitoring the hearing of adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke may head off problems in development and functioning associated with early hearing loss.

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