Here’s an attention-grabbing headline in Time Magazine—that exposure to second hand smoke significantly increases a teen’s chances of nerve deafness by almost two-fold. It’s already been shown that smoking can cause hearing loss in adults, but the fact that second hand smoke can affect teens’ hearing was quite a surprise.
It’s already known that cigarette smoke can aggravate middle ear infections in teens, leading to reversible hearing loss, but this study reported sensorineural hearing loss, which is generally nonreversible.
The authors of the study from NYU don’t give clear explanations for this finding, so let me put forth a few possible reasons:
- Teens probably listen to music at loud levels, which is known to cause nerve deafness, especially at higher frequencies (this study showed hearing loss at the mid to high frequencies).
- The teenage years are a period of massive change in the upper airway. These relative changes will destabilize breathing at night, leading to more frequent partial to total obstructions and arousals. Some teens (especially those with dental crowding and small jaws) will be more susceptible than others. Lack of deep, quality sleep has been shown to have detrimental effects on brain development and repair.
- Parents of the teens that smoke probably have a higher chance of snoring or having obstructive sleep apnea. Not sleeping well can predispose to increased stress and addictive activities that can stimulate and calm at the same time (such as alcohol and smoking).
- Intermittent brain hypoxia has been shown to cause major neurologic damage in multiple parts of the brain, including memory, executive function, autonomic control, and hearing centers
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome is more common in teens, contributing to poor sleep.
It’s conceivable that if you have mild degrees of nerve damage from loud music, the body will have the reserve to reverse or minimize any nerve damage. However, if you add all the other variables such as poor sleep and intermittent hypoxia from breathing pauses, then it’s likely that you’ll be more susceptible to inner ear nerve deafness.
So the next time your teenager seems to be ignoring you, it may be due to hearing loss.