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Smoking and Hearing Loss

Today is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout—a day to start a plan to quit smoking, or convince those around you to quit. We’re doing our part by re-running our blog post on the link between smoking and hearing loss, to provide you and those you know with even more reason to quit.

By now you’ve learned all the ways smoking cigarettes can damage your body. Conditions like cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems can often be traced back to a lifetime of smoking. However, like most people, you probably associate hearing loss with advanced age or noise exposure, but don’t know the risk of hearing loss due to smoking.

According to a study done by The Journal of the American Medical Association, 70 percent of smokers are likelier to develop hearing loss over a non-smoker. The study goes on to explain that the longer you smoke, and the greater the intensity of your habit, the likelier chance of damage to your hearing health.

Research has also found that people living with smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke are almost twice as likely to develop hearing loss. So a smoker’s habit not only puts their hearing and overall health at risk, it also endangers those closest to them. Yet, despite all the information available on the detrimental effects of smoking, roughly 36.5 million adults in the US currently smoke cigarettes and 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

Chemicals in cigarettes are ototoxic

An ototoxic chemical is any substance ‘poisonous’ to the ear. The damage caused can be temporary or reversible depending on exposure levels and other factors. The list of dangerous chemicals in cigarettes include the following:

  • Arsenic
  • Ammonia
  • Formaldehyde
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Nicotine

Nicotine alone lowers blood oxygen levels and constricts blood vessels throughout the body. Those effects are also hazardous to your inner ear, which is where the sensitive hair cells (stereocilia) vital to conducting sound to your brain reside. If lack of blood flow damages or destroys them they cannot be restored, and neither can the hearing you lose with them.

Harmful toxins can also damage neurotransmitters located in your brain that help you interpret sound, affecting your ability to understand speech. Tinnitus is another potential result of smoking, as nicotine can contribute to the development of the phantom “ringing” or similar irritating sound.

Preserve your hearing health — quit smoking

The benefits of quitting smoking do wonders for your health. The following highlights how quickly your body recovers after quitting:

  • 12 hours: Carbon monoxide levels return to normal, improving blood oxygen levels throughout the body
  • 3 days: Breathing gets easier, and you experience an increase of energy
  • A few weeks to a couple months: Your lungs are stronger and blood flow has improved. Chances of a heart attack have decreased
  • 5 years: Chances of a stroke are the same as a non-smoker. You are also half as likely to get cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, or bladder as you were while smoking

Quitting can be difficult, but with the right support and motivation it is possible. Start preserving your health and hearing today, and protect those closest to you. If smoking has already affected your hearing health, or you are concerned second-hand smoke has damaged your hearing, consult a hearing care professional.