A five-year study of 4000 subjects published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found smokers were 1.7 times more likely to have a significant hearing loss than non-smokers, after adjusting for age, history of cardiovascular disease, alcohol consumption and noise exposure.
Ex-smokers were 1.3 times as likely to have a hearing loss. Non-smokers living with a smoker were also at significantly higher risk for hearing loss.
The connection between smoking and heart disease, cancer, and respiratory problems gets all the attention, but the effects of smoking on hearing have long been known. If you’re one of the 40 million U.S. adults who smokes cigarettes — or someone who lives with a smoker — read on to find out how smoking is linked to hearing loss.
How does smoking affect hearing?
- Compared to nonsmokers, smokers have a 70% greater chance of developing hearing loss.
- Nonsmokers are twice as likely to develop hearing loss if they live with a smoker.
- The greater your daily average of cigarettes, the greater your risk of developing hearing loss.
- Mothers who smoke during pregnancy increase their child’s risk for developing speech-language problems.
- If you work around high levels of occupational noise, smoking increases your risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
- Adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop hearing loss — and they usually aren’t even aware of it.
Different studies have reported different suggestions for how smoking damages hearing. Here are some common culprits.
Your eustachian tube runs from your middle ear to the back of your throat. It equalizes the pressure in your ears, and it drains the mucous created by the lining of your middle ear. Smoking leads to problems — and even blockages — in the eustachian tube, causing pressure buildup and hearing loss.
Smoking impacts your blood pressure. What does that have to do with your hearing? The structures in your inner ear depend on good, sturdy blood flow. When your blood pressure changes, your inner ear has difficulty processing sound. In pregnant women, smoking restricts blood flow — and, therefore, the oxygen supply — to the fetus. The developing inner ear doesn’t get enough oxygen, so it develops more slowly and could lead to speech-language problems later.
Neurotransmitters are messengers that carry information between the cells in your body. Nicotine interferes with how your body regulates a key neurotransmitter — one that is crucial for transporting sound information from your inner ear to your brain. This means your brain isn’t getting enough sound input, so it has a harder time making sense of the sounds you hear.
Central nervous system
The parts of your central nervous system that create your ability to hear are still developing in late adolescence. This system is easily damaged by toxins — such as nicotine — during its development, which could explain the prevalence among adolescents of hearing loss due to secondhand smoke.
Though hearing loss caused by smoking can’t be reversed, it’s never too late to quit smoking to avoid further damage to your hearing. Contact us to schedule an appointment to get your hearing tested!
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use: Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/index.htm. Accessed July 31, 2018. Cruickshanks KJ, et al. Cigarette Smoking and Hearing Loss: The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study. JAMA. 1998;279(21):1715–1719. Katbamna B. Effects of Smoking on the Auditory System. Audiology Online. October 2008, article 899. https://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/effects-smoking-on-auditory-system-899. Tao L, et al. Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Workers Exposed to Occupational Noise in China. Noise Health. 2013;15(62):67–72. Pezzoli M, et al. Effects of Smoking on Eustachian Tube and Hearing. Int Tinnitus J. 2017;21(2):98–103.