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Smoking and Hearing Loss Risks

January 8, 2016

It’s already been well established that smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems just to name a few. The health risks associated with your smoking habit can be greater when you’re waiting for hearing test results. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 42 million American adults over the age of 18 are still smoking cigarettes. Sixteen million of these smokers suffer from a disease caused by the habit. Smoking accounts for more than 480,000 deaths each year. If you’re a smoker or living with someone who smokes, then your hearing is at risk, too.

Since an initial study in 1962, hearing health experts have long suspected that smoking contributes to hearing loss. Follow-up studies continue to confirm the findings; smokers are 70 percent more likely than nonsmokers to suffer from hearing loss. The study also found that Nonsmokers living with a smoker were found to have twice the risk of developing hearing loss as those who were not exposed to smoke at all.  It doesn’t matter what age you are exposed to cigarette smoke either, a New York University School of Medicine study found.  Children between the ages of 12 – 19 exposed to cigarette smoke tested positive for levels of cotinine, a byproduct of nicotine in the bloodstream.  A shocking 80 percent of the participants of the study were not aware that they had experienced any degree of hearing loss prior to testing. 
Why are smokers almost twice as likely as nonsmokers to have hearing loss?  Cigarettes contain several toxic chemicals, including formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, and nicotine. Nicotine and carbon monoxide deplete oxygen levels and constrict blood vessels all over your body – including those in your inner ear responsible for maintaining hair cell health.  Neurotransmitter functions are impaired by nicotine and other dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, which harmfully affect the brain’s capability to comprehend sound. 
  • Smoking irritates the Eustachian tube (tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose) and lining of the middle ear.  Cigarette smoke damages the cilia in your ear, which in turns causes the body to have difficulty when draining mucus in middle ear.  When the cilia is properly functioning, the body will have equalized pressure on both sides of the eardrum.  When your Eustachian tube is not functioning properly, your hearing will sound muffled.
  • As smoking irritates the lining of the ear, it can make you more sensitive to loud noises.  This in turn makes it possible to easily develop noise-induced hearing loss.
  • The chemicals in cigarette smoke also damage cells in the body, turning them into free radicals that damages DNA and causes disease.
The longer your body is exposed to cigarette smoke, the greater the damage is to your health.  Although cigarette smoking is detrimental to your health, there is good news!  The American Cancer Society has found that 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure and heart rate drops, within 12 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide in your blood drop to the normal amount, and one day your chances of having a heart attack or stroke start to decrease.  Other benefits include:
  • Reduced risk of cancers, including lung cancer,
  • Reduced risk of developing COPD, one of the leading causes of death in the United States,
  • Coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, and other respiratory functions reduce.  Symptoms may not be alleviated, but they do not continue to progress, like in smokers. 
The health benefits are greater for those who stop smoking at an earlier age, but there are benefits at every age.  You may not be able to reverse your smoke-related hearing loss, but you are able to stop the damage by quitting smoking today!

If you need an audiogram test to determine your level of hearing loss, contact Resonance Hearing Aids today to receive a list of audiologists in your area and get started on the first steps toward better hearing.