Wait before you take a next puff from that cigarette – it might affect your hearing! While the list of negative health effects of smoking is long and ugly, we’d like to highlight how smoking can ultimately be the harbinger of hearing loss.


Ears on the Smokestack: Hearing Loss and Smoke

One in five Americans, or roughly 20% of the US population are smokers. Sure, it feels relaxing and is soothing on the nerves. But with every draw, a plethora of toxic chemicals are ingested, such as formaldehyde, arsenic, vinyl chloride, ammonia and hydrogen cyanide, just to name a few. Some of these substances, including nicotine, are so called “ototoxic”, meaning that they can impair your hearing, cause tinnitus or affect your balance.

Various statistics in recent years showed that smokers are 70% more likely to develop some form of hearing loss than non-smokers, if all other factors are corrected for. Smoking combined with noise exposure is an even more explosive combination: a study among manufacturing workers exposed to steady noise environments revealed that smokers had a 4x higher incidence of hearing loss than their non-smoking coworkers in the same noisy line of work. Not surprisingly, the prevalence of hearing loss among smokers is directly related to the number of smoking years.

But what causes this hearing loss?

To get a better view on the mechanics involved, let’s have a look at the ear picture below:


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First, the nicotine and carbon monoxide that result from smoking tighten your blood vessels, including the ones in your ears. This restricts the blood flow and thus the life-giving oxygen in the inner ear. The tiny hair cells in the cochlea that are responsible for translating sound vibrations into electrical impulses for the brain, can thus face damage due to this type of asphyxiation.

Secondly, nicotine can affect the chemical messengers (or neurotransmitters) in the auditory nerve and thus would not be able to accurately tell the brain what kind of sound is really being processed. Thirdly, smoking unleashes free radicals in our bodies. If these radicals speed into the tissue and hair cells in our inner ear, permanent damage can result.


An important implication is the effect that smoking has on those around us. Studies have shown clear correlations between hearing loss and second-hand smoke. This is particularly troubling when it concerns children, since the auditory system is usually not fully developed until late adolescence.

So spare yourself the hearing trouble, tone down on those cigarettes and maybe try yoga for relaxation instead. In the meantime, you can learn more about how our wonderful ears work in Audicus Hearing Aids’ guide to hearing.


Sources: Audicus Hearing Aids, Hear It, Hearing Loss Help, Healthy Hearing

by Patrick Freuler

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