When The Smoke Gets in Your Ears

Last update on May, 27, 2019

Cigarette smoke gets in your lungs, your blood stream and your ears putting you at higher risk for any number of costly health conditions – cancer, heart disease, respiratory ailments and now you can add hearing loss to that list.

It’s nothing new - you go into a health care provider and the question is asked: Do you smoke, or have you been a smoker? The fact is cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Smoking is associated with a host of serious and costly health conditions including cancer, heart disease and respiratory ailments.

And now there’s compelling evidence that smoking also takes a toll on your hearing.

A new study of more than 50,000 Japanese workers found that smokers were up to 70% more likely than nonsmokers to develop high-frequency hearing loss, the most common type of hearing loss. In addition, the study concluded that smoking increased the risk of low-frequency hearing loss by up to 40%.

Furthermore, the more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk of hearing loss, according to researchers. Study participants who smoked up to 10 cigarettes per day were at a 40% higher risk for high-frequency hearing loss; that risk climbed to 70% for those who went through more than 20 cigarettes daily.

“The study showed clearly that there is a direct link between the number of cigarettes and the damage suffered,” stated Dr. Matteo Pezzoli, a hearing specialist in Alba, Italy, who was not involved with the study.

On a positive note, researchers found that the risk of hearing loss dropped significantly within five years of when a person quit smoking.

The research doesn’t explain why smoking damages hearing. However, it’s likely that nicotine and other toxins, including formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide, harm the inner ear. Also, smoking causes inflammation and may decrease vital blood flow to the cochlea, part of the inner ear that’s critical to hearing.

The potential for ‘cascading’ health benefits

The implications of the Japanese study extend well beyond just hearing loss. As we’ve reported previously, hearing loss is a significant risk factor for depression, dementia and injury-causing falls — all costly health conditions to treat. In other words, quitting smoking creates the potential for “cascading” health benefits: both preventing smoking-related illnesses and decreasing the risk of conditions related to hearing loss.

There’s another interesting connection between smoking and hearing loss. Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and represents approximately one of every four deaths from CVD, according to the 2014 Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health.

A study conducted by David R. Friedland, MD, Ph.D., Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, found evidence that hearing loss could indicate you have the presence of CVD in its early, more treatable stages. When the heart, arteries and veins are clear and healthy, blood can flow freely. But when there's a blockage or damage, reduced blood flow may affect the tiny hairs of the cochlea that are responsible for sending sound signals to your brain.

Start a new habit

In light of findings from the Japanese study, Amplifon Hearing Health Care strongly urges you to quit smoking now to reduce your risk for hearing loss.

Secondly, take advantage of the hearing care program available to you. Periodic hearing tests can detect hearing loss in both smokers and nonsmokers, enabling treatment that preserves quality of life and job performance, while reducing the risk of hearing loss comorbidities. Plus, this testing may indicate the presence of CVD, which is so prevalent in smokers, potentially allowing for earlier diagnosis and intervention.

A man using an app on his smartphone with his wife next to him
Schedule an appointment

Go ahead, find a provider near you and set an appointment to get your hearing evaluated today. It could possibly be one of the best habits you can add to your health care routine.  

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