Wednesday Health Watch: Smoking and Hearing Loss

At this point, we've all been educated on the health risks of smoking. However, one area that hasn't been covered extensively is the correlation between smoking and hearing. 

The most cited clinical study of hearing loss and smoking appeared in the June 1998 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. It showed that smokers are 70% more likely than non-smokers to experience hearing loss. It also showed that non-smokers living with a smoker were twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who were not exposed at all. A more recent study conducted at NYU's School of Medicine in 2011 found that teens exposed to cigarette smoke are to two to three times as likely to develop hearing loss compared to those with little or no exposure. 

Here are a few ways that smoking negatively impacts your hearing: 

  • Nicotine and carbon monoxide deplete oxygen levels and constrict blood vessels in your inner ear, which is responsible for maintaining hair cell health.
  • Nicotine can cause tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo.
  • The chemical messengers between the ears and the brain, or neurotransmitters, are susceptible to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine. Chronic nicotine use can impair neurotransmitter function adversely affecting the brain’s ability to interpret sound.

When smoking is combined with additional risk factors for hearing loss, including age and noise exposure, the effects appear to be cumulative. Therefore, the longer a person smokes, the more likely their smoking will contribute to their hearing health. 

The good news is 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure decreases and circulation improves. Your oxygen and carbon monoxide levels return to normal eight hours after a cigarette. In 48 hours, your nerve endings begin to regenerate.

It's never too late to quit!