Nicotine Causes Lifelong Hearing and Cognitive Problems for Children
Hearing Health & Technology Matters
March 25, 2014


Diana has delved through the research to provide a follow-up to a previous post on the damages of second-hand smoke that I published on this blog in October 2012.

By Diana Holan

Smoking by pregnant women may result in fetal injury, premature birth, and low birth weight.” Because nicotine causes blood vessels to constrict, adequate oxygen and necessary nutrients have difficulty traveling through the placenta to the baby. 

But the damage does not stop at birth.  Kevin Liang, et al., showed that nicotine enters into acetylcholine receptors in the primary auditory cortex during fetal development to cause auditory-cognitive deficits, which results in problems common found among these children, such as comprehending speech in noise, following spoken instructions, and distinguishing similar sounds.  These researchers also showed the potential for nicotine exposure, even from a patch, to put other cognitive areas (vision, etc.) at risk.

It is known that exposure to second-hand smoke in adolescence (60% of U.S. children) results in more chronic ear infections and respiratory illness,  but a 2011 study of 1,533 children ages 12-19 years  revealed more low and high pitch pure-tone hearing loss that “… appeared to be cumulative, increasing with the level of nicotine (in the blood).” And, 81% did not know they had hearing loss.  Other health risks from second-hand smoke help explain additional complications for learning, as well as why these children may be primed to become smokers themselves.  In 2011, a correlation was made to mental health issues (depression, anxiety, ADHD, and behavioral disorder),  while another group reported that even limited exposure actually alters the child’s brain function.  A 2012 study found these children have inadequate cough reflexes (i.e., respiratory illness), which may contribute to their higher susceptibility to nicotine addiction because they do not have a negative coughing response to inhaling the toxic smoke

Therefore, significant learning and behavior challenges in childhood will continue throughout life, and as smoking adults, the cycle continues on to subsequent generations.  But there is a solution.  A 2012 report from England showed that there was a 59% drop in exposure to second-hand smoke from 1996-2006, when parents and caregivers were encouraged to either stop smoking or do so outside, away from the children.  The project leader, Dr. Anna Gilmore concludes, “…the factors which most strongly influence children’s exposure are modifiable.”

feature photo courtesy of silver bulletin

DianaDiana Holan, MS, has been practicing audiology for over 20 years in Tucson and is committed to improving communication between patients and their families through the use of state-of-the-art hearing aid technology and various assistive techniques. She received a Bachelors of Science in Speech and Hearing and a Masters of Science in Audiology from the University of Arizona

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