smoking and hearing loss

Current & Former Smokers May Be at Higher Risk for Hearing Loss

Dr. T

In 2020, a survey from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 13 of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (12.5%) were current cigarette smokers meaning that an estimated 30.8 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes! Meanwhile its projected that over   16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. You must be stubborn to still smoke these days when you understand the many risks but as these statistics show, plenty of people still do. Part of the reason for the popularity of smoking is that it is incredibly addictive, making it difficult for many to even imagine a life without smoking. However, this imagined life, post cigarettes, is the first step to quitting. As if you needed one more reason to quit, a recent study has found that smokers and even former smokers are at a higher risk of hearing loss and it’s more serious than you may first suspect.

Understanding How Smoking Effects Hearing Loss

While we collect sound with our ears, hearing occurs in the brain, where sounds are identified, and speech is processed. 90 percent of all cases of hearing loss are sensorineural, meaning the system which delivers sound to the brain is interrupted, causing permanent damage. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural and occurs when the cells which send sound to the brain are damaged. 

However, anything which challenges the integrity of your cells within the inner ear can cause life-long hearing loss. This can be a chronic health condition such as hypertension or diabetes or even certain chemicals which are classified as ototoxic. Ototoxic chemical damage cell health of the ear and cigarettes contain many including carbon monoxide, nicotine, formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, and vinyl chloride. The primary ingredient in tobacco products—causes blood cells to constrict, limiting the flow of blood to the cells in the ear and every other part of the body.

A Recent Study on Smoking

A large 2018 Japanese study collected information on over 50,000 people aged 20 to 64 to understand how smoking may intersect with hearing loss. By surveying participants about their daily tobacco use in cross-reference with the results of their hearing exams, they were able to see how smoking affected hearing health.

They found that even those who smoked 10 cigarettes daily were 40% more likely to develop hearing loss, while those who smoked 11 to 20 cigarettes per day were 60% more likely to have hearing loss. Meanwhile those who smoked over a pack a day were 70% more likely to develop hearing loss, meaning heavy smokers were at a higher risk of hearing loss!

The Impact of Hearing Loss

There are so many terminal effects of smoking cigarettes including coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, damaged blood vessels and damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain, it may seem silly to worry about hearing loss, but it is much more serious than many suspect. Hearing loss affects your health on a wide range of levels, from mental, emotional, and physical as well.

What starts as a communication issue can quickly affect your self-esteem, mood, and relationships throughout your life. Not only do you feel distant from those close to you but your professional life often is affected as well, decreasing earning potential and increasing the risk of unemployment.

On a cognitive level, hearing occurs in the brain, so when information is diminished it causes our brain to work harder to fill in gaps in conversations. Even at the early stages of hearing loss, this cognitive strain can cause decline and begin to increase the risk of dementia later in life. As for a physical risk, hearing loss affects our awareness of our environment. When it goes unaddressed it can affect balance and increases the risk of falls and accidents which can lead to hospitalizations.

Moving on to the Next Stage of Life

You may know it’s time to move on but it’s hard to let go of old habits. We are here to help. Not only can we provide resources to help you quit but we can test your hearing and help you find the best treatment to help you hear better for years to come. Contact us today to schedule your next hearing exam.