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Hearing loss is a chronic health condition that impacts 1 in 8 people in the U.S. Though it can be effectively managed, damage to one’s hearing is often permanent. Identifying and addressing risk factors is a major way to reduce the risk or prevent the development of hearing loss. Research has long identified smoking as a risk factor; studies have shown that smoking as well as second hand smoke can significantly impact hearing health.
Research Linking Hearing Loss & Second Hand Smoke
There are several studies that highlight the increased risk of hearing loss experienced by people who smoke and people who are exposed to secondhand smoke.
- 2018 Study, National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Japan: In one of the largest studies investigating the link between smoking and hearing loss, researchers studied a large group of employees. The study included:
- Study: 50, 195 people between the ages of 20 – 64 who did not have hearing loss when the study began. The cohort included smokers, nonsmokers, and former smokers. Participants’ hearing was assessed over the course of 8 years.
- Findings: 5,100 people developed hearing loss. Compared to the participants who did not smoke, smokers were:
- 60% more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss
- 20% more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss
- The greater the number of cigarettes smoked, the higher the risk of developing high frequency hearing loss.
- Up to 10 cigarettes per day: 40% more likely
- More than 20 cigarettes per day: 70% more likely
- 2011 Study, New York University: Researchers at NYU studied the link between second hand smoke exposure and hearing loss.
- Study: 1,533 participants, 12-19 years old, who were not smokers but self-reported their exposure to second hand smoke and also had their hearing tested.
- Findings: participants who were exposed to secondhand smoke were more likely to develop hearing loss. They were nearly twice as likely to develop low and high frequency hearing impairment.
These studies along with several others highlight two important realities: hearing loss and second hand smoke is linked and that that second hand smoke has harmful effects on hearing health.
Impact of Smoke on Hearing
Two key ingredients in cigarettes are carbon monoxide and nicotine. These toxic chemicals can impact the auditory system in various ways including:
- Blood Flow: Reducing oxygen levels and restricting blood vessels in the body which includes the inner ear. The inner ear consists of the cochlea which is filled with thousands of hair cells that translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to make meaning of. Restricted blood and oxygen flow threatens the health of these cells, reducing their ability to process soundwaves.
- Neurotransmitters: send information between cells in the body including electrical signals from the inner ear to the brain. Nicotine and carbon monoxide can disrupt how neurotransmitters are regulated, affecting the brain from receiving sound information.
- Eustachian Tube: connects the middle ear to the back of the throat and maintains pressure in the ears. These ingredients can impact this tube, causing irritation or blockages that leads to pressure build up.
In addition, toxic chemicals impact the central nervous system and can damage tissue. This can weaken the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to ear infections which can contribute to hearing loss.
Protecting Your Hearing Health
There are useful ways you can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss. You can protect your hearing health by:
- Reduce or Eliminate Exposure to Smoking: it is important to identify how and where you are exposed to smoking. If you can, avoid the environments and settings that may expose you to smoking, ask others to avoid smoking when you are around; and when you cannot avoid being around smoking, make sure you maintain a comfortable distance.
- Have Hearing Tested: hearing tests are noninvasive and easy! They measure your hearing ability in both ears which identifies any impairment and the degree. This allows you to immediately address any hearing loss you may be experiencing which can help you transition to better hearing much more effectively!