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Smoking and Hearing Loss

Once touted as a smart choice for health and a slim figure, the less than healthful truth about cigarettes is out! We’ve now heard for years how dangerous smoking can be for our health. It has been linked to a wide range of health concerns including:

  • Lung cancer
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Heart Disease
  • Stroke
  • Diabetes

What you may not know is that it has also been linked to increased risk of hearing loss.

Smoking and hearing loss

While smoking has decreased over the last ten years, it is estimated that 37.8 million Americans currently smoke cigarettes. Public health campaigns have made many of the risks of this habit common knowledge, but a new study has now added hearing loss to that list.

In the recent study Smoking, Smoking Cessation, and the Risk of Hearing Loss: Japan Epidemiology Collaboration on Occupational Health Study, approximately 50,000 individuals aged 20–64 years and free of hearing loss at the start were followed for up to 8 years. Each year, participants had audiometric testing.

The findings were significant.

Of the 50,195 participants, 3532 developed high-frequency hearing loss, and 1575 developed low-frequency hearing loss. Researchers found that risk increased along with the number of cigarettes smoked per day.

What was most interesting was that increased risk of hearing loss disappeared when participants stopped smoking.

This isn’t the only study of its kind either. Several studies over recent years have come to the same conclusion.

  • A study of 3753 individuals aged 48 to 92 years concluded that “current smokers were 1.69 times as likely to have a hearing loss as nonsmokers.”
  • In a review of 15 (10 cross-sectional, 4 cohort, and one case-control) observational studies, researchers concluded: “The evidence was suggestive of a positive association between smoking and hearing loss.”
  • A cross-sectional study in 13,308 men aged 20-68 found that “a significantly higher incidence of any type of hearing loss was found in current and past smokers than in non-smokers.”

Why the increased risk?

Experts agree that more research is needed into the connection between smoking and hearing loss. There are, however, theories into why there may be a connection.

Many believe that the nicotine and carbon monoxide smokers are exposed to through cigarettes can affect blood flow throughout the body, including that to the delicate cells of the inner ear.

Healthy hearing involves several different structures that take in sound waves and translate them into what we hear. When these sound waves reach the eardrum, it vibrates, in turn vibrating the fluid of the inner ear and causing small hair-like cells to create electrical signals for the brain. When these small hair-like structures lack a healthy blood-flow, as may happen when nicotine restricts it, they become damaged and stop functioning. Hearing loss is the result.

These chemicals may also affect the neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve, the lining of the middle ear and may cause noise sensitivity increases the risk of noise-induced damage to hearing.

Even if you don’t smoke, if you are around second-hand smoke, your hearing could be at risk.

Protect your hearing health by giving up smoking or help someone you love to quit smoking. These tips and resources can help.

Find out if you have hearing loss and how to manage it by scheduling an evaluation with our office.

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