Prenatal Smoke Exposure


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Babies are extremely delicate creatures and the precautions future parents must take to care for them during and after pregnancy are seemingly endless. Recent studies have found that exposure to smoke before birth is associated with hearing loss in adolescents. Most people are aware that when pregnant, women are not allowed to drink alcohol or smoke as it can lead to a myriad of possible health complications to the baby before and after its birth. Some of these risks include increased risk of miscarriage or stillbirth, increased risk of the baby developing respiratory problems, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the list goes on and on. Most women are also careful to heed this advice and cease to engage in drinking and smoking activities during their pregnancies. However, even if the expectant mother isn't smoking, her unborn baby is STILL at risk to suffer from smoke related health complications-- almost as if she herself was smoking throughout her pregnancy.

Secondhand smoke has equally as bad, if not worse effects on the health of an unborn baby than direct exposure to smoke from the mother. According to WebMD, the smoke that burns off the end of a cigarette has more harmful substances such as tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine, than the smoke inhaled by a smoker.  For instance, if the expectant mother works at a bar where smoking is allowed or lives with a heavy smoker, she's constantly inhaling fumes that are even worse than if she was smoking, herself!

Smoking-Around-Children.jpg

A study conducted by Michael Weitzman, M.D., of the New York University School of Medicine, included 964 adolescents with ages ranging from 12-15 years. Of the 964 of them, about 16% had parents who admitted to "confirmed prenatal smoke exposure".  The participants underwent standardized audiometric testing in addition to self reports along with serum cotinine levels to find those who were exposed to second hand smoke or direct smoke from the mother. The effects associated with it included higher pure-tone hearing thresholds and an "...almost three-fold increase in the odds of unilateral low-frequency hearing loss, according to study results."

A quote from the researchers of the study states, "The actual extent of hearing loss associated with prenatal smoke exposure in this study seems relatively modest; the largest difference in pure-tone hearing threshold between exposed and unexposed adolescents is less than 3 decibels, and most of the hearing loss is mild. However, an almost 3-fold increased odds of unilateral hearing loss in adolescents with prenatal smoke exposure is worrisome for many reasons,".

The data found through the study is valid but we never find out how much exposure the adolescents received while they were in the womb. All the parents had to do was provide the information, "yes or no", if their child was exposed to smoke before birth. How drastic was the exposure? For the parents whose children were exposed before birth, did the expectant mother just walk through a puff of smoke on the street one day? Or was she constantly around others who smoked? Maybe she was the smoker herself. One way to find this information is to survey the parents of the adolescents. This way, of the 16% of adolescents affected, you can compare the severity of their hearing loss to their parents' responses about how much they were exposed. This can be a helpful tool in gauging how much exposure leads to what amount of hearing loss. Obviously there is no safe level of smoking during pregnancy. However, it is more than likely that the severity of a child's hearing loss will vary depending on the amount of smoke they were exposed to while in the womb. What other variables do you think could factor into hearing loss due to smoke exposure?


3 Comments

I have many aunts who smoke cigarettes. They are trying to slowly ween themselves off now, I wonder how often I came in contact with cigarette smoke as an infant. Although, it is not exactly the same thing, I also wonder whether or not these encounters had any effect on me now. Here is a website with a list of different effects secondhand smoke can have on an infant: http://no-smoke.org/document.php?id=212. It is terrifying to know that someone elses decisions can drastically affect yourself.

This is a pretty scary article. During the summer I worked as a lifeguard and one of my co-workers was 26 and mother to a baby who was 8 months old. She confided in me that she smoked while she was pregnant. "Only one or two a day," I remember her telling me. I cannot believe how irresponsible that was of her. The dangers of secondhand smoke are scary as it is. I wish she had read this article or yours before lighting up.

Wow. Obviously it's not nice to judge other people and their actions but it's really scary to think that your co- worker continued to smoke while she was pregnant. Like I said in my post, there is no safe level of smoking while pregnant so even "only one or two a day" is too much.

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