A Link between Hearing Loss and Second-Hand Smoke

A Link between Hearing Loss and Second-Hand Smoke

Ron Middleton Ear Health, Health, Hearing Health, hearing loss, News and Science, Signs & Symptoms

Ron Middleton
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There are many reasons to be aware of the risks of smoking. First and foremost, the Center for Disease Control says that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more. There are many people who do not smoke, but who are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and in public spaces such as parks and sidewalks. People exposed to secondhand smoke are also at risk for the negative effects of the dangerous toxins and chemicals in cigarettes.

Secondhand smoke also has many health risks because nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are ultimately exposed to many of the same cancer-causing substances and poisons in cigarettes that smokers are exposed to. Exposure to secondhand smoke causes cardiovascular disease and increases the risks of heart attacks because it negatively affects your blood and blood vessels. The Center for Disease Control note that secondhand smoke causes more than 7,300 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. It can be especially harmful to children, and has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma attacks.

When it comes to children, secondhand smoke can be particularly harmful on their auditory systems. Children who are exposed to their parents’ secondhand smoke are more prone to get ear infections and to have fluid in their ears. These children also have higher incidents of needing operations to put tubes in their ears for drainage. Another risk of secondhand smoke for children is the development of middle ear disease.

Studies Explore a Potential Link Between Hearing Loss and Second Hand Smoke

A 2011 study done by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine finds that exposure to tobacco smoke doubles the risk of hearing loss among adolescents. The study published in Archives of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery was led by Anil Lalwani, MD, professor of professor of otolaryngology, physiology and neuroscience, and pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine. For the study, more than 1,500 people between the ages of 12 and 19 were given hearing tests and blood tests searching for an element of nicotine called chemical cotinine. Those who were exposed to secondhand smoke had higher incidents of sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, and is typically caused by natural aging. These cells can also be damaged by noise and by diseases.

The teenagers who were exposed to secondhand smoke generally performed worse across all of the hearing tests conducted, yet 80 percent of them were unaware of any hearing problems. Dr. Lalwani, who led the research, remarked that “Milder hearing loss is not necessarily noticeable. Thus, simply asking someone whether they think they have hearing loss is insufficient.”

Another study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and published in the journal Tobacco Control, which comes out bimonthly, found that people exposed to second hand smoke had increased risk of low-frequency hearing loss, a finding similar to the previous study just discussed. Middle- and low-frequency hearing loss can be somewhat mild, but the consequences can run deep. That is because these mild forms of hearing loss can make it difficult to distinguish speech patterns and can make people, especially children, distracted, feel disconnected, or avoidant of social situations altogether.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study looked at data on 3,307 people between the ages of 20 and 69 years old who also had higher levels of the cotinine chemical (the breakdown of nicotine). Some 46 percent of these people were former smokers themselves, but were also exposed to others’ secondhand smoke—these people had higher risk of high-frequency hearing loss. This mode of hearing loss impairs people’s abilities to hear and understand speech (it frequently sounds muffled).

Quitting Smoking

There are a lot of really good reasons to stop smoking and to avoid secondhand smoke. Nonsmokers have a higher life expectancy, lower rates of infant mortality, are at less of a risk of obesity, and have lower risks of heart disease. While it can sometimes be a bit more difficult to avoid secondhand smoke, especially for children of smokers, taking small steps to get fresh air might not only save your hearing, but your life as well.

To learn more about hearing health for the entire family, contact us at Lifestyle Hearing Solutions.