Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Linked to Hearing Loss

By Deborah Huso Nov 18th 2010 12:46PM for AOL

While health professionals have long been touting the dangers of secondhand smoke, pointing out that even if you’re not a smoker yourself but hang out with someone who is, you could still suffer the consequences of repeated smoke inhalation. And if the fear of lung or heart disease isn’t enough to give you pause, a new study indicating secondhand smoke may also lead to hearing loss might.

Research published in the journal Tobacco Control suggests that nonsmokers who regularly inhale secondhand smoke could be increasing their risk of some hearing loss. While previous studies have already shown a link between smoking and hearing loss, this latest research out of Starkey Laboratories in Minnesota shows that former smokers as well as people who have never smoked but live among smokers could experience some degree of hearing loss related to past or present smoke inhalation. One in 10 nonsmokers who participated in the study exhibited low- to mid-frequency hearing loss, and one in four had high frequency hearing loss.

Study authors analyzed information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, relying on data between 1999 and 2004 on more than 3,000 adults, ages 20 to 69, all of whom had their hearing tested and were classified as passive smokers.

While researchers remain uncertain about what exactly is causing the hearing loss, there are some theories. Dr. Freedom Johnson, director of head and neck oncologic, reconstructive and cranial base surgery with MetroHealth in Cleveland, who reviewed this latest study, told AOL Health that it’s possible the hearing loss is a direct result of toxins from cigarette smoke that get into the bloodstream. However, he said the hearing damage could also occur because smoking can lead to heart disease, which often reduces blood flow to the inner ear.

This study is another thing that raises our awareness of the complications of smoking,” Johnson says. “And it may help us provide better counseling to patients who are already experiencing hearing loss about what could be causing it.”

What do you do if your spouse or friends smoke and you’re worried about secondhand exposure?

“It’s similar to having allergies to a pet,” Johnson says. “You don’t want to take the cat to the pound.” In other words, while you can’t be expected to move out of the house because your husband smokes, you can do things to reduce its impacts on your own health.

“If you can’t eliminate your exposure to the smoke, do everything else you can to maximize health,” Johnson advises. That includes eating right and exercising. “Try to counteract the adverse effects of secondhand smoke exposure as much as you can.”

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