by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Smoking is bad for your health. Numerous studies have proven this. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that breathing secondhand smoke is also bad for your health. Again, studies have proven this.
Now, a recent study by Dr. Anil Lalwani has shown that in addition to causing health problems and ear infections, breathing secondhand smoke can also cause sensorineural hearing loss in those that breathe secondhand smoke.
Dr. Lalwani of the New York University Langone Medical Center studied 1,533 12 to 19-year-old youths that did not smoke. He collected information on whether or not smokers lived in their homes. Each of these teens were given extensive hearing tests. They were also given a blood test to measure the level of cotinine (a substance related to nicotine) that can objectively tell how much secondhand smoke a person has been exposed to.
The results were striking. The higher the teens’ level of cotinine, the higher their chances for having resulting sensorineural hearing loss. In fact, the cotinine acted as a remarkably accurate barometer of hearing damage according to Dr. Lalwani. (1)
Sensorineural hearing loss was defined as an average pure tone level greater than 15 dB. Secondhand smoke exposure, as assessed by cotinine levels, was associated with elevated pure tone hearing thresholds at 2, 3 and 4 kHz (critical frequencies required for clearly, understanding speech) and an 183% increase in risk of unilateral low-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. (2)
Interestingly enough, 82% of the teens did not realize that they had a hearing loss. (2)
Why does breathing secondhand smoke cause increased hearing loss? According to Dr. Lalwani, “We know smoking leads to reduced oxygen in the blood, so that may be an issue. We also know that smoking causes vascular issues, so a variety of factors could be contributing.” (1)
Now comes the important question. What can you do about it? If you are a parent that smokes, the obvious answer is “Stop smoking!” Not only will stopping smoking improve your own health, but you will also improve the health of your children, and help preserve their precious hearing. That alone should make it worth the effort.
(1) Teen Hearing Problems—It’s Not Just About the Loud Music! October 20, 2011. In: Bottom Line’s Daily Health News.
(2) Lalwani, Anil. 2011. Secondhand Smoke and Sensorineural Hearing Loss in Adolescents. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011 Jul; 137(7): 655-62.