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Studies show that current and former smokers can experience an increased risk of developing hearing loss. Hearing loss is one of the most pervasive medical conditions, impacting an estimated 48 million people. Impaired hearing reduces a person’s capacity to absorb and process sound which produces a range of symptoms that affect daily life. Hearing loss strains communication, relationships, social engagement, and overall wellness. There are various factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss including existing medical conditions, exposure to loud noise, genetic history, aging, and injuries. Additionally, recent research highlights smoking as a risk factor.
Link Between Smoking and Hearing Loss
There are several studies that examine the link between smoking and hearing loss. A significant 2018 study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research was conducted by the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Japan. Researchers studied the effects of smoking on hearing health among a group of employees. The study included:
- Study: 50,195 people, ages of 20 – 64, who did not have hearing loss when the study began. This group included smokers, nonsmokers, and former smokers whose hearing was comprehensively examined yearly over an 8-year period.
- Findings: During the study, a total of 5,100 people developed hearing loss. Researchers found that compared to nonsmokers, smokers were:
- 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss
- 20% more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss
- The greater the number of cigarettes smoked, the higher the risk of developing high-frequency hearing loss.
- Up to 10 cigarettes per day: 40% more likely
- More than 20 cigarettes per day: 70% more likely
These findings highlight that there can be a significant correlation between smoking and hearing loss. Huanhuan Hu, lead author of the study, stated: “the more one smokes, the higher the risk of hearing loss. Quitting smoking virtually eliminates the excess risk of hearing loss, even among quitters with short duration of cessation”.
Impact of Smoking on Hearing Health
Researchers suggest a few ways that smoking can be harmful for hearing health. The ingredients in cigarettes include nicotine and carbon monoxide, chemicals that impact the body’s systems. In the study previously mentioned, the population of people who were current smokers also disproportionately experienced chronic health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. These conditions increase the risk of developing hearing loss by impacting:
- Blood Flow: nicotine and carbon monoxide can reduce oxygen levels in the body. This can restrict blood vessels which include the blood vessels that are in the inner ear. These blood vessels help the hair cells in the inner ear which translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to be further processed. When blood vessels and blood flow is restricted, it can reduce the capacity for hair cells to perform this essential function, contributing to hearing loss.
- Neurotransmitters: these ingredients can also disrupt neurotransmitters which work to share information between cells. This can restrict electrical signals from reaching the brain from the inner ear.
- Eustachian Tube: a tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and helps regulate pressure in the ears. Nicotine and carbon monoxide can be harmful for the eustachian tube and cause pressure to accumulate which creates challenges for hearing.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are effective ways that you can protect your hearing health. Practicing safety measures is particularly important for people who smoke and experience a greater risk of developing impaired hearing. A few tips you can integrate into daily life include:
- Eliminate or Reduce Smoking: quitting completely can be challenging but this option offers countless health benefits. If quitting is not an option, reduce your consumption as much as possible.
- Have Hearing Tested: testing hearing regularly (once a year) is a great way to be proactive about hearing health. This allows you to identify any changes to hearing and intervene early.
- Wear Protective Gear: reducing exposure to loud noise is another helpful way to protect hearing and reduce the risk of developing hearing loss. You can do this by wearing earmuffs, headphones, earplugs, etc.