We’re all familiar with the substantial list of health risks that go along with smoking, from cancer to cardiovascular disease. But if these well-known risks aren’t enough reason to quit smoking, or avoid cigarettes in the first place, there is now another factor to consider: the hearing health of our children. New research from Japan has revealed that exposure to secondhand smoke, both in the womb and in the first few months of a child’s life, can contribute to a higher prevalence of hearing loss.
About the study
It was researchers from Kyoto University who uncovered the potentially significant link between secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure and hearing loss in children. Their study appeared last month in the Journal of Pediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology and focused specifically on the children’s hearing when they were three years old. As well as testing the children’s hearing abilities, the research team looked at their past exposure to tobacco smoke. The participants of the study were 50,734 children born between 2004 and 2010 in Kobe City in Japan.
The results of the study showed that if a child’s mother was a past smoker (prior to her pregnancy) they had a 26 per cent increased risk of hearing loss, while if the child was exposed to secondhand smoke from birth to age four months, they had a 30 percent increased chance of hearing loss. The most notable connection between SHS exposure and hearing loss was found with children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. These children were 68 per cent more likely to develop hearing loss than other children who were not exposed to tobacco smoke.
By age three, 4.6 percent of the children in the study already exhibited a type of hearing impairment, and a correlation was detected between their SHS exposure and hearing loss. Of the children, 3.8 percent were exposed to smoke only in utero, 15.2 percent were exposed only by their mother’s past smoking habits, 3.9 percent were exposed only to secondhand smoke from birth to four months old, and 0.9 percent were exposed to tobacco smoke both during pregnancy and from birth to four months.
The researchers tested the children’s hearing by using the whispered voice test, a typically used test to screen for hearing loss in both children and adults. During this test, the patient is asked to repeat a set of letters and numbers which are read from behind the patient to prevent lip reading. The parents’ smoking habits were measured by a questionnaire.
The researchers stated that, although the study cannot prove conclusively that cigarette smoke was the direct cause of the children’s hearing loss, parents should make every effort to prevent SHS exposure in their children, as this is clear way to reduce their risk of developing hearing loss.
Senior author of the study Dr. Koji Kawakami of Kyoto University said, “Although public health guidelines already discourage smoking during pregnancy and in front of children, some women still smoke during pregnancy and many young children are exposed to secondhand smoke. This study clearly shows that preventing exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and postnatally may reduce the risk of hearing problems in children.”
Dr. Kawakami also stressed the need to strengthen interventions to prevent smoking before, during and after pregnancy to reduce children’s exposure to secondhand smoke.
In addition to the danger it poses to children’s long-term hearing health, smoking increases the risk of a number of other major health issues, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic bronchitis, poor fertility, Type 2 diabetes and cataracts. Children are also more prone to become smokers if they have a parent who smokes, so quitting can have a positive effect on future generations.
Treating hearing loss promptly is essential
Untreated hearing loss in children can cause language delays, make it difficult for them to socialize, and lead to problems in adolescence and adulthood. So, when it comes to pediatric hearing loss, early treatment with hearing aids is of utmost importance. If you are at all concerned that your child has a hearing loss, don’t delay in making an appointment with a specialist for a hearing exam.
Neighborhood Hearing Center can help
Have you noticed problems with your child’s hearing–or your own? Neighborhood Hearing Aid Center is happy to help. We offer comprehensive audiological testing as well as personalized care to help you find the best treatment option. Make your appointment today!