by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Smoking causes hearing loss in many smokers. That is nothing new. I have written about this for several years now. So maybe it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that researchers have now discovered that breathing secondhand smoke also harms hearing in non-smokers.
Researchers divided 3,307 people between the ages of 20 and 69 into two groups—people who had never smoked, and former smokers. Here’s what they discovered.
For former smokers, breathing secondhand smoke caused low-frequency (2,000 Hz and below) hearing loss (hearing loss greater than 25 dB) in 14% of the former smokers studied. The risk of hearing loss in the high frequencies (3,000 – 8,000 Hz) was much higher at 46%.
For people who had never smoked, but were exposed to secondhand smoke, the figures were lower, but still affected significant numbers of people. The risk incidence of hearing loss was 8.6% in the low frequencies and 26.6% in the high frequencies. (1)
Thus, if you have never smoked, but live or work around those that do, you have roughly a 1 in 10 chance of developing a low-frequency hearing loss and a 1 in 4 chance of having high-frequency hearing loss as a result.
This study also indicates that if you are a former smoker and are still around smokers, the hearing loss that you developed while you were still a smoker will continue to progress.
When asked how much exposure to secondhand smoke was too much, Dr. David Fabry, the lead researcher explained, “We don’t know exactly, but the threshold for damage is very low. No exposure is the only safe level.” (2)
If you value your hearing, besides protecting your ears from loud sounds and from the ravages of ototoxic drugs, you also need to keep away from smokers and secondhand smoke.
(1) Fabry, David, Ph.D., et. al. “Secondhand smoke exposure
and the risk of hearing loss”. In; Tobacco Control , November,
(2) The Hearing Journal, December 2010. Vol. 63, No. 12.