Smoking and Hearing Loss

If you’re addicted to cigarettes and you’ve noticed your hearing isn’t as sharp as you would like, there’s a good chance that smoking may be to blame.

Hearing Loss: The Studies

Harvard University Medical School reviewed several studies on how cigarette smoking affects hearing. Approximately two-thirds of those studies indicated that cigarette smokers are substantially more likely to have hearing loss than nonsmokers.

One large study in Japan followed 52,000 people for eight years. All participants had no hearing loss at the beginning of the study, but a yearly hearing exam revealed that eight of 1,000 nonsmokers developed high-frequency hearing loss every year.

Hearing loss in smokers was nearly double that rate, with 15 smokers developing high-frequency hearing loss every year. It was also evident that the more a person smoked, the higher the risk of hearing loss.

Another study by the University of Wisconsin, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that smokers are 1.7 times more likely than nonsmokers to develop at least a mild hearing loss. Long-term or heavy smokers were at higher risk.

How Smoking Affects Hearing

Scientists aren’t sure why smoking affects hearing and more in-depth studies are needed to determine the cause. However, the following factors are suspected:

• Smoking constricts blood vessels and restricts blood flow throughout the body, including the blood vessels in the ears.
• Thousands of chemicals in tobacco smoke may have a toxic effect on tiny cells in the inner ear, including toxins such as formaldehyde, ammonia, vinyl chloride and arsenic.
• Smoking cigarettes irritates the Eustachian tubes, as well as the lining of the middle ear.
• Nicotine may reduce the brain’s ability to interpret sounds.
• Researchers also think that smoking makes the ears more sensitive to loud noises.

Smoking and Second-Hand Smoke

Research has also shown a strong connection between second-hand smoke (passive smoking), and hearing loss. A study conducted by New York University School of Medicine revealed that adolescents exposed to second-hand smoke are at least twice as likely to develop hearing problems than those were weren’t exposed to cigarette smoke.

Stop Smoking Now to Preserve your Hearing

If you stop smoking now, you won’t regain any hearing that you lost; however, you can prevent further damage.

If you’re addicted to smoking, you already know that quitting is extremely difficult. Remember, however, that quitting now will also reduce your risk of developing a host of other smoking-related health problems, including lung cancer and other forms of cancer, stroke, heart attack, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as well as respiratory problems such as shortness of breath and coughing.

Ask your medical provider to recommend a good smoking cessation program. Take advantage of nicotine patches and chewing gum that may relieve cravings for nicotine. Some people find success by joining a 12-step group such as Smokers Anonymous.

If you also struggle with other addictions, consider a drug and alcohol treatment center or rehab. A good treatment center can help you address your addictions, as well as anxiety, depression or other problems that may be involved.

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