Add teen hearing loss to secondhand smoke risks

REUTERS/Carlos Barria
REUTERS/Carlos Barria

As if parents need another reason to double their efforts to quit smoking, now researchers have linked hearing loss in teenagers to secondhand smoke exposure. Teens who live in a household with smokers have an 83 percent greater likelihood of developing hearing loss in the lowest and highest frequencies than teens in homes with no smokers, according to a study published today in the Archives of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery.

Previous research has already established that secondhand smoke increases the risk of medical problems in kids including ear infections in infants, respiratory problems, sudden infant death syndrome, and asthma attacks.

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The study authors, from New York University Lagone Medical Center, noted that teens aren’t routinely screened for hearing loss but that the finding may now warrant screening for those who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

“Health care providers (ie, physicians and nurse practitioners) should add SHS exposure to the list of risk factors for hearing loss and refer these young adults for complete audiologic evaluation to identify early hearing loss,’’ the researchers wrote, given that 82 percent of the study participants with hearing loss didn’t recognize that they were having difficulty hearing.

Another finding last week published in the journal Pediatrics also highlighted the dangers of exposing kids to tobacco fumes. Researchers found that kids whose parents smoked had more than twice the likelihood of developing cognitive problems like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders by the time they turned 11. Some 7 percent of kids from nonsmoking homes had learning disabilities compared with 15 percent of those who lived in homes where parents smoked; 5 percent in nonsmoking homes had ADHD and 3 percent a behavioral disorder, compared with 13 percent of those exposed to secondhand smoke who had ADHD and nearly 9 percent who had a behavioral problem.

The researchers, from the Harvard School of Public Health, found that the risk of being diagnosed with two or three of these problems was 50 percent higher in those from homes where caregivers smoked. The study took into account potential confounding factors like socioeconomic status, birth weight, and parents’ level of education.

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“In absolute terms, 274,100 excess cases of these disorders could have been prevented had children not been exposed to SHS in their homes,’’ wrote the researchers. “These health and economic burdens might be reduced significantly if voluntary smoke-free home policies are vigorously encouraged.’’

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