Smoking During Pregnancy Is Now Linked to Hearing Loss
A new study has found that tobacco smoke exposure during pregnancy and during infancy is linked to hearing loss in children. While most of us know that smoking during pregnancy carries serious risks with it, including a low birth weight, premature delivery, and respiratory problems with the baby, it is clear that even with all of the research that has been done on smoking during pregnancy, there are still risks that we aren't fully aware of yet.
And unfortunately, even if mothers are able to stop smoking during their pregnancies or stop smoking before they conceive, their babies may still be exposed to dangerous smoke secondhand. If family members in the household or caregivers smoke around a child, that exposure can cause permanent health damage, including, as a new study has found, hearing loss.
The study, which comes out of Japan, found that smoke exposure during pregnancy and early infancy actually more than doubled the risk of hearing loss in children. The Japanese study was a comprehensive one, looking at 50,734 children born between 2004 and 2010 in Kobe City, Japan. Overall, the study found that children who were exposed to tobacco during their mothers' pregnancies were a staggering 68 percent more likely to have hearing loss. And children who were exposed to secondhand smoke (meaning they inhaled it) were 30 percent more likely to have hearing loss.
Researchers in the study verified their findings by testing the children involved through hearing screens at 3 years old. The results? 4.6 percent of all the children had hearing loss.
The study also found something that was rather new to the body of work that has been done on smoking during pregnancy and infancy: the risks of hearing loss were significantly increased when a child was exposed to tobacco during pregnancy and also exposed later in childhood again. So, essentially, if a mother smokes or uses a tobacco product during pregnancy and then continues to use it after her baby is born, or has family or friends that smoke or use tobacco regularly around their children, that child's risk of permanent hearing loss and damage goes up by a lot.
And just how exactly does smoking and tobacco cause hearing loss in children? As one doctor not associated with the study explained, the absorbed tobacco may harm the developing brain of the fetus, leading to auditory cognitive dysfunction. It's also thought that the tobacco smoke might cause physical damage to the sensitive sensory receptors in the ear that depend on sound vibration to relay messages to the brain about the sounds they are hearing.
If those sensors are damaged, the brain is unable to receive the signals that a sound is being heard. Tobacco smoke in general during pregnancy also severely decreases oxygen flow to the fetus, so there are a lot of developmental impacts that can occur as the fetus grows. If oxygen is restricted to certain areas of the baby's brain or body as it develops, those structures could suffer permanent damage.
Overall, the study pointed to yet another important reminder that smoking during pregnancy–and allowing children to be exposed to secondhand smoke or tobacco products as babies and toddlers and preschoolers–can cause permanent, lasting damage and health concerns, including hearing loss for life.
If you are a smoker and are planning to become pregnant in the near future, now is definitely the time to talk to a doctor about ways you can quit. Pregnancy might be a difficult time to try to initiate a smoking cessation program because it can be a very tiring and stressful time — not exactly the ideal situation to try to kick a habit all by yourself. Instead, ideally, you can work with a doctor or other healthcare professional to try to make a plan for slowly weaning yourself off of smoking before you conceive and continue to work with a professional during your pregnancy to avoid a relapse.
And if your partner or other members in your household smoke, you will also want to speak with them regarding your baby's health and avoiding smoke exposure. Because as this study shows, protecting your child from smoke exposure starts during pregnancy and is so important through your children's early years of life.