Exposure to secondhand smoke can now be added to the list of such perils as exposure to loud music that may lead to hearing loss in teens, according to a study published today in the Archives of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.
The researchers examined data from 1533 nonsmokers in the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey who were between the ages of 12 and 19 years. All the individuals had undergone hearing testing and their blood was tested for levels of cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine used as a biomarker for smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke. They found that exposure to secondhand smoke was associated with hearing loss and that those with the highest levels of cotinine had the greatest degree of hearing loss.
Anil K. Lalwani, MD, the study’s lead author and professor of otolaryngology at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, explained that the new findings are the latest in a growing body of literature suggesting that exposure to cigarette smoke can lead to impaired sensory skills in nonsmokers.
“Secondhand smoke is not benign,” Lalwani noted.
Previously, studies had linked in utero exposure to secondhand smoke to the development of respiratory problems, ear infections, and low birth weight, while childhood exposure was also linked to an increased rate of ear infections.
Lalwani said his team’s findings are particularly concerning because unlike younger children, adolescents are not routinely screened for hearing loss. Without such screening, he noted, secondhand smoke–associated hearing loss might go undetected and lead to impaired functioning in affected individuals.
Accordingly, if additional studies confirm these findings, at-risk teens—those exposed to secondhand smoke—“should be monitored for hearing loss,” Lalwani said.