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Do Your Ears a Favor - Quit Smoking

Earlier this month 146 countries which in 2005 signed the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, met in Bangkok, Thailand, and decided unanimously to adopt guidelines stipulating totally smoke-free public places. That is great news for your ears.

This bold move highlights the concern of public health bodies around the world over the harmful effects of cigarette smoke. According to the WHO, which says there are nearly 4,000 known chemicals in tobacco, smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the world. In 2005, the last year for which statistical evidence is currently available, smoking caused 5.4 million deaths, including an estimated 440,000 in the United States. At the current rate, the organization warns, the death toll is projected to reach 8.3 million by 2030 and a total of one billion in the 21st century.

All the scientific and clinical studies strongly point to the connection between smoking and various types of cancers, heart disease, strokes, emphysema, and a slew of other serious (and often fatal) illnesses. It is a proven fact that smoking causes diseases in nearly every organ of the body, including the ears.

What is the correlation between tobacco and hearing? Numerous studies conducted here and abroad show that smokers have a much greater risk of suffering hearing loss than non-smokers.

Smoking and Hearing Loss: A Historic Perspective

101507_smokinghearingloss.jpgSurprisingly enough, in 1875 already a medical journal reported the association between excessive smoking and deafness.

Why is this surprising? Because in those days doctors and scientists didnt have the technology we use today, and a lot of research was based on simple observations and anecdotal evidence. As it turns out, many of the findings of that era were accurate.

Later documented studies conducted at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century also refer to tobacco-induced deafness. One study of that time period was summarized in these words: We have good reason for believing that the use of tobacco may impair the organ of hearing.

This early, rudimentary research was validated time and again by subsequent studies conducted with progressively more sophisticated and reliable techniques. In June, 1998 the Journal of the American Medical Association reported the findings of a major study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, showing that risk of becoming hearing-impaired often increases with the number of cigarettes smoked, as well as with the intensity and the duration of exposure to smoke.

According to this research, nearly 26 percent of smokers 48 to 59 years of age (the youngest group studied) were suffering from hearing loss, compared to 16.1 percent among non-smokers.

A later study, carried out in 2004 by the same university, found no significant association between smoking and hearing loss. These findings, however, were refuted by another U of W-M study showing that smokers have a 70 percent greater risk of having hearing loss than non-smokers.

Toxic Effects of Second-Hand Smoke

Lets look at another proven danger of smoking: the second-hand, or passive smoke.

Here too the preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that not only smokers themselves, but also those around them, are at risk of developing the same tobacco-induced serious diseases.

The 1998 study found that non-smokers living with a smoker have an increased risk of becoming hearing-impaired. They are almost twice as likely to suffer from hearing problems as those living in a smoke-free environment.

But wait, there is more. Another study carried out by Adair-Bischoff and Suave at the University of Calgary in Canada and published February, 1998 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine , reported that children exposed to second-hand smoke in their homes during the first three years of life are at almost double the risk for frequent or persistent middle ear infections. The risk of recurrent ear infections increases to 85 percent if both parents smoke.

Smoke Signals From the Clinical Studies

What is the link between smoking and hearing loss? One generally accepted view among audiologists is that nicotine the addictive substance that occurs naturally in tobacco --restricts blood and oxygen flow to the inner ear. That results in the damage, and possibly even permanent loss, of the delicate hair cells, which play a vital role in our ability to hear clearly.

That is one more compelling reason to heed the Surgeon Generals warning about the harmful effects of tobacco. Quitting is the only way to safeguard your health and preserve your hearing. And that is one crucial message that should never go up in smoke.

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