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Secondhand Smoke Linked to Hearing Loss in Teens

MONDAY, July 18 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to secondhand smoke could affect hearing development in children and increase their risk of hearing loss during adolescence, a new study indicates.

These findings may warrant screenings for hearing loss among children exposed to secondhand smoke, the researchers warned.

Roughly 60 percent of children in the United States are exposed to secondhand smoke, reported the study's authors. These children are at greater risk for certain health problems, from respiratory infections to behavioral difficulties and otitis media (acute ear infection). Babies whose mothers smoked when pregnant are also at greater risk for low birthweight and other problems.

"Secondhand smoke may also have the potential to have an impact on auditory development," something that has significant implications for U.S. public health, the researchers wrote.

In the study, they questioned 1,533 teens about their health status and family medical history, exposure to secondhand smoke and their knowledge of whether or not they had a hearing problem. The teens were also given physicals, which included blood testing for cotinine (a byproduct of nicotine exposure) and hearing tests.

Teens who had been exposed to secondhand smoke had higher rates of low- and high-frequency hearing loss than their peers who were not exposed, researchers found. The study noted that judging by cotinine levels, the severity of the hearing loss depended on how much exposure they had had. The study pointed out, however, more than 80 percent of the teens suffering from hearing loss didn't even realize they had a problem.

The findings were published in the July issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

Since teenagers are not screened for hearing loss in the absence of risk factors for the condition, the researchers argued teens that have been exposed to secondhand smoke should be more closely monitored for hearing impairment.

The study added that teens should also be educated about risk factors for hearing loss, such as noise exposure and secondhand smoke.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more facts on the effects of secondhand smoke.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: JAMA, news release, July 18, 2011.

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