(HealthDay News) – Secondhand smoke exposure in utero is associated with higher pure-tone hearing thresholds and an increased likelihood of unilateral low-frequency sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) among adolescents, according to a study published online June 20 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

Michael Weitzman, MD, from the New York University School of Medicine in New York City, and colleagues examined the correlation between exposure to prenatal tobacco smoke and SNHL using data for 964 adolescents aged 12–15 years participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2005–2006). Serum cotinine levels and self-reports identified adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke or who were active smokers. Standardized audiometric testing was performed.

The researchers found that parental responses affirmed prenatal smoke exposure in 16.2% of the adolescent participants. Pure-tone hearing thresholds at 2 and 6 kHz were significantly elevated with prenatal smoking exposure, which also correlated with a higher rate of unilateral low-frequency SNHL in bivariate analyses (17.6% vs. 7.1%). In multivariate analysis, after controlling for multiple hearing-related covariates, the odds of having unilateral low-frequency SNHL were increased 2.6 fold.

“These novel findings suggest that in utero exposure to tobacco smoke may be injurious to the auditory system,” the authors write.

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