Are you a smoker? Despite overwhelming information highlighting the dangers of tobacco use through smoking, vaping and chew, still today an estimated 28.3 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes., leading approximately 16 million to live with a smoking-related disease. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases, and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.” In addition, recent studies are showing overwhelming evidence that smoking may also contribute to hearing loss!
Smoking and Ototoxic Chemicals
Chemicals in tobacco products are ototoxic, meaning that they can damage the tiny hairlike cells of the inner ear. Nicotine is not only an additive prominent chemical in tobacco products, but it also constricts blood vessels throughout the body, including the inner ear. In our inner ear are tiny hairlike cells called stereocilia. These cells are the sole delivery system of sound from our ears to the brain. When these cells die, it can lead to permanent hearing loss. In addition, when we smoke, it puts carbon monoxide into our lungs which depletes oxygen levels and affects the blood vessels in every part of our body contributing to cell death in our ears.
A Study of Hearing Loss and Smoking
A 2018 study from Japan suggests that smokers may be at a higher risk for hearing loss. By cross referencing data collected between approximately 50,000 Japanese workers, ages 20 to 64, who didn’t have hearing loss. In an eight year follow up, they found that of those who smoked more than 5,100 people had developed hearing loss!
They found that those who smoked were 60 percent more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss that makes it hard to understand speech in noisy environments. What was notable is that they determined that those who were current smokers were also 20 percent more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss which creates more challenges in detecting deeper voices.
“The more one smokes, the higher the risk of hearing loss,” explains lead study author Huanhuan Hu of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo.
One more Reason to Quit
Smoking has been proven to cause a slew of dangerous health issues such cancer and lung disease. If you needed one more reason to quit, the study found that stopping smoking can lower your risk of hearing loss. “Quitting smoking virtually eliminates the excess risk of hearing loss, even among quitters with short duration of cessation,” Hu states via email. “Because the risk of hearing loss increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, if quitting is impossible people should still smoke as little as possible.”
At the beginning of this study examining 19,000 people in their 40s who were current smokers, they determined that current smokers had higher chances of having chronic health problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as working in jobs with higher levels of occupational noise. In the study 9,800 were former smokers and 21,000 had never smoked. Based on annual hearing exams of all people in the study the researchers were able to determine:
- When compared to nonsmokers, people who currently smoked up to 10 cigarettes a day were 40 percent more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss and 10 percent more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss!
- For those who smoked an average of 11 to 20 cigarettes daily, (half to a full pack) they were 60 percent more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss and 20 percent more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss!
- Those who smoked a pack or more (20 plus cigarettes) daily were 70 percent more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss and 40 percent more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss.
The Lessons of Research on Smoking and the Impact on Our Hearing
The takeaway from this study show” a growing body of evidence suggesting that smoking can contribute to hearing loss” explains Dr. Matteo Pezzoli, a hearing specialist at San Lazzaro Hospital in Alba, Italy, not related to the study but reflecting on the results.
“To maintain the hearing, we have when we’re young, in addition to quitting smoking it is also important to lead a healthier lifestyle and increase sporting activities”
In addition, if you are a current or former smoker, you should screen for hearing loss annually. Contact us to schedule your next hearing exam with us!