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Second-Hand-Smokers Can Lose Their Hearing

May 31, 2014 12:48 PM EDT

It is already well known that a great deal of health problems arise from smoking tobacco. Now researchers have discovered that cigarette smoking and second hand smoke can also lead to hearing loss, although why this occurs remains unclear.

A study published in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology details how smokers are about 15 percent more likely to develop hearing loss than non-smokers. Alarmingly, this association nearly doubles for frequent second-hand smokers, with passive smoking leading to a whopping 28 percent increased chance of hearing loss compared to nonsmokers.

"We are not sure if toxins in tobacco smoke affect hearing directly, or whether smoking-related cardiovascular disease causes microvascular changes that impact on hearing, or both," study author Piers Dawes from the Centre for Human Communication and Deafness at The University of Manchester admitted in a statement.

However, it should be noted that past research has shown that, predictably, active smoking is far more damaging to the cardiovascular system than passive smoking. The fact that second-hand smokers appear to face the highest risk of hearing loss indicates that unknown factors associated with cigarette smoke may contribute to hearing loss.

Researchers determined all this after assessing 164,770 adults from the United Kingdome Between the ages 40 and 69. All of these participants underwent hearing tests between 2007 and 2010 as part of the ongoing, long-term UK Biobank health project.

While the resulting data indicated that passive smokers face the highest risk, the reseachers are quick to point out that passive smokers were only compared with non-smokers in the study, while smokers were compared with both passive smokers and non-smokers. This, they write, could result in "underestimated" risk among smokers.

However, regardless of who faces the highest risk, the data still indicates that cigarette smoke leads to hearing loss.

Commenting for Manchester University, Dr. Ralph Holme, head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss said it would be prudent to couple giving up smoking with avoiding loud noise as two "practical steps people can take today to prevent hearing loss later in life."

The study was published in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology on May 29.

A University of Manchester news release was published May 29.

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