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Smoking is associated with increased risk of hearing loss. A recent study of over 50,000 participants spanning 8 years showed an increased risk of hearing loss in current smokers compared to those who had never smoked, even after adjusting for factors such as occupational job exposure. Smoking cessation decreased the risk of hearing loss after 5 years of quitting. 

Older studies have found similar results, such as non-smokers living with a smoker are twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who were not exposed at all, according to a JAMA study. Teen smokers’ hearing health is at risk, too, with two to three times the risk of hearing loss as non-smokers. The majority of people in these studies had no idea their hearing had been affected.

In addition to hearing loss, smoking is strongly linked to tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness and vertigo.

How Smoking Affects Hearing Loss

Vasoconstriction. Numerous studies show the various chemicals in cigarettes and cigarette smoke can damage your heart and blood vessels. In particular, nicotine and carbon monoxide interfere with proper function of your cardiovascular system by changing your heart and blood vessels:

Nicotine causes your blood vessels to constrict or narrow (vasoconstriction). This limits the blood that flows to your organs. Over time, the blood vessels become stiff and less elastic, worsening the effect and further decreasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients your cells receive. In order to meet the need for more oxygen to compensate for this loss, your heart rate may increase.

Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen delivered to all of your cells. Your heart may become larger (a dangerous condition) to provide your body with more oxygen and try to pump more blood throughout your body. 

Results of nicotine and carbon monoxide:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Enlarged heart 
  • Stiff and less elastic blood vessels

Points to remember:

  • Changes in the structure and function of your heart and blood vessels increase your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. 
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke has the same effects. 
  • Quitting smoking reverses the damage to your heart and blood vessels and your risk of heart disease decreases.

Ear structure and function damage. Smoking-induced vasoconstriction also affects the blood vessels in your inner ear that are responsible for maintaining the ear’s sensory hair cells’ health. Nicotine and cigarette smoke are also believed to:

  • Interfere with neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve. These transmitters are responsible for telling the brain what sounds you hear.
  • Irritate the eustachian tube middle ear lining.
  • Make you more sensitive to loud noises and at risk for developing noise-induced hearing loss.

Tinnitus. More research is needed to know for sure if smoking increases your risk for developing or worsening tinnitus. Evidence suggests that smoking is at the very least associated with tinnitus. Rates of tinnitus are higher in smokers than non-smokers, though no direct cause-and-effect relationship has been established. The theory is that smoking causes tinnitus for the same reasons it is linked to hearing loss.

Smoking and ear infections. Smoking increases the risk of ear infections in both adults and children (through second-hand smoke). Smoking weakens the immune system, making you susceptible to any type of infection. It also damages tissues in the nose and throat, making you more susceptible to infections that affect the ears. 

Unfortunately, children are at higher risk of ear infections because of their ear anatomy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that secondhand smoke causes numerous health problems in infants and children, including: 

  • Inner ear infections
  • Middle ear infections that can lead to hearing loss
  • Respiratory infections
  • More frequent and severe asthma attacks
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Resources to Help You Quit Smoking

To protect your health and hearing, make quitting your first priority if you smoke. Even if you’ve been a long-term smoker, there is still a lot of good news for your health. According to the American Lung Association: 

  • Your blood pressure decreases and your circulation improves 20 minutes after your last cigarette. 
  • Your oxygen and carbon monoxide levels return to normal within 8 hours. 
  • After 48 hours, your nerve endings begin to regenerate and your sense of smell and taste improve.

There are many additional health benefits of quitting. Although you can’t reverse the sensorineural hearing loss you’ve developed the time you smoked, you can prevent future nicotine-related damage to your hearing. Visit a local hearing healthcare professional to have your hearing tested. 

If you’re ready to quit, but don’t know how to start or create a plan, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional. You can also visit smokefree.gov for tips and how to handle your first day without cigarettes. The American Lung Association also offers an online Freedom From Smoking program, which teaches skills and techniques proven to help smokers quit.

Getting a hearing test is essential for your hearing health, especially if you were or are a smoker. Contact us to speak with one of our hearing care specialists or make an appointment. Sonora has many options for hearing improvement and creating a plan for helping you protect your hearing.

Reference:Huanhuan Hu, PhD, Naoko Sasaki, MD, Takayuki Ogasawara, MD, et al: Japan Epidemiology Collaboration on Occupational Health Study, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Volume 21, Issue 4, April 2019, Pages 481–488, https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/nty026