Obese teenagers are more likely to suffer hearing loss compared to their normal-weight peers, a new study has found.
US scientists analysed data from almost 1,500 young people aged between 12 and 19. A number of issues were taken into account, such as family medical history, noise exposure history and current medical conditions.
The study found that obese teenagers had increased sensorineural hearing loss across all frequencies. This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells of the inner ear.
The highest rates of hearing loss related to low-frequency sounds. At least 15% of obese teenagers had this type of hearing loss compared to just 7% of their normal-weight peers.
Overall, obese teens were twice as likely to have unilateral (one-sided) low-frequency hearing loss.
According to the scientists, ‘this is the first paper to show that obesity is associated with hearing loss in adolescents'.
While acknowledging that the hearing loss found in teenagers was relatively mild, the increased risk of unilateral low-frequency hearing loss was a particular cause for concern, the scientists insisted.
They said that this indicates early and potentially ongoing injury to the inner ear that could progress into adulthood.
"These results have several important public health implications. Because previous research found that 80% of adolescents with hearing loss were unaware of having hearing difficulty, adolescents with obesity should receive regular hearing screening so they can be treated appropriately to avoid cognitive and behavioural issues.
"Furthermore, hearing loss should be added to the growing list of the negative health consequences of obesity that affect both children and adults - adding to the impetus to reduce obesity among people of all ages," the team insisted.
While it is not fully understood why obesity appears to affect hearing, the scientists suggested that obesity-induced inflammation may play a role. Conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, have also been linked to hearing loss.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, The Laryngoscope.