There’s no shortage of reasons not to smoke or to quit if you already do. Lighting up increases your risk for heart disease and lung cancer, and places you at higher risk for other health problems as well. What you may not realize is that smoking can damage your hearing, too.
How do we know smoking is harmful to hearing? A large study involving more than 164,000 middle-aged adults showed smoking and exposure to passive cigarette smoke are linked with a greater risk for hearing loss. In this study, the more participants smoked and the longer they smoked, the greater the risk for hearing loss. The good news is quitting smoking seems to lower the risk. Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed smokers were 1.7 times more likely to experience hearing loss relative to non-smokers.
How does smoking impact hearing? It’s not clear, but there are some theories. Nicotine in cigarette smoke is a vasoconstrictor, a chemical that tightens blood vessels and reduces blood flow. One theory is nicotine clamps down on blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to the inner ear, thereby causing damage. Don’t forget that cigarette smoke contains a mishmash of toxins, including benzene, cyanide, arsenic, formaldehyde and other not-so-healthy ingredients.
It’s also possible that some other factor that smokers have in common like exposure to loud noise, alcohol exposure or other chronic medical problems may be the main contributor to hearing loss in smokers, rather than the toxins in cigarette smoke themselves. Nevertheless, smoking, loud music, and too much alcohol isn’t a good combination for hearing health.
If you’re a smoker, the first order of business is to kick the habit. Then have a hearing test to make sure you’re not already experiencing the effects of too much smoking. The take-home message is that it’s not just noise exposure that damages your hearing. Environmental factors like cigarette smoking do, too.
Medical News Today. (2014). Smoking, passive smoking linked to hearing loss. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/277516.php
Cruickshanks, K. J., Klein, R., Klein, B. K., Wiley, T., Nondahl, D. M., & Tweed, T. S. (1998). Journal of the American Medical Association, 279(21).