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Teen Hearing Loss Linked to Secondhand Smoke

By Nancy Walsh, MedPage Today, 7/18/11

Smoke gets in your ears -- if you're a teen exposed to secondhand smoke -- and is associated with hearing loss, a large study suggested.

Exposed adolescents were 1.83 times more likely to experience low-frequency hearing loss (95{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} CI 1.08 to 3.41) than those who had no exposure, according to Anil K. Lalwani, MD, and colleagues from New York University in New York City.

And the greatest risk for hearing loss -- a 2.72-fold increase (95{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} CI 1.46 to 5.06) -- was in those with the highest levels of exposure as determined by serum cotinine levels, Lalwani's group reported in the July Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

The list of potentially harmful outcomes associated with exposure to secondhand smoke continues to grow, from low birth weight to behavioral and cognitive problems and respiratory tract infections -- and more than half of U.S. children are exposed.

In the first study to examine secondhand smoke exposure and sensorineural hearing loss in young people, the investigators analyzed cross-sectional data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

They identified 1,533 nonsmokers ages 12 to 19 who had undergone audiometric testing and whose serum cotinine levels had been measured.

Low-frequency sensorineural hearing loss was defined as a pure-tone level above 15 dB for 0.5, 1, and 2 kHz, while high-frequency loss was a level above 15 dB for 3, 4, 6, and 8 kHz.

Overall rates of hearing loss were:

  • Unilateral low-frequency, 9.55{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc}
  • Bilateral low-frequency, 2.19{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc}
  • Unilateral high-frequency, 15.38{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc}
  • Bilateral high-frequency, 3.68{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc}

Yet only 18.43{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} of the teens with these forms of hearing loss were aware of the problem.

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