Smoking and Hearing Loss: One More Reason to Kick the Habit

Smoking and Hearing Loss

Science links smoking directly to hearing loss: Researchers have known for decades that smoking tobacco poses many risks to health. There have been multiple serious diseases linked directly to smoking including lung cancer, throat cancer, chronic pulmonary disease, emphysema, allergies and other disorders. It is surprising that one in five Americans still continues to smoke.

Smoking produces a multitude of toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, vinyl chloride, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide. Even secondhand smoke carries significant toxicity to non-smokers.

Over the last 40 years scientists have recognized the danger smoking presents to our sense of hearing.

The main toxicity is to the cochlea which is a fluid filled Oregon containing 21,000 hair-like projections waving in the cochlear fluid called hair cells. Smoking has been shown to directly damage those hair cells and correlates with the amount of smoking measured as the number of cigarettes per day and the number of years spent with habitual smoking. A Japanese study demonstrated that the more people smoke each day and the longer period of time over which they smoke, the worse the hearing damage results, especially in high frequencies.

The brain is also directly damaged by smoking. Various studies suggest that chronic nicotine use will impair cognitive auditory processing. In other words smoking cannot only negatively affect one’s ability to hear but also to process and interpret sound.

Smoking, age, and noise exposure seem to combine to pose a greater risk for hearing loss than each factor individually.

It should be clear that we can do little to counteract the effects of aging however we can usually prevent excessive noise exposure and we can always prevent the negative effects of smoking through personal restraint and simply “dropping the habit!”

Submitted by Chipp Miller M.D.

The above summary was inspired by an original article appearing in HealthyHearing 2009