Cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, oh my! The health risks associated with your smoking habit are scarier than the Wicked Witch of the West. Here’s more bad news. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 42 million American adults over the age of 18 smoke cigarettes. Sixteen million of these smokers suffer from a disease caused by their habit; smoking accounts for more than 480,000 deaths each year. If you’re a smoker – or live with someone who smokes – chances are your hearing is at risk, too.
Hearing health experts have suspected that smoking contributes to hearing loss since an initial study in 1962; however, on-going studies confirm it. Smokers are 70 percent more likely than non-smokers to suffer hearing loss, according to an article in the June 1998 Journal of the American Medical Association. The study also found that non-smokers living with a smoker were twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who were not exposed at all.
Young smokers’ hearing health is at risk, too. Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine found that teens exposed to cigarette smoke are to two to three times as likely to develop hearing loss compared to those with little or no exposure. Eighty percent of the participants in the 2011 study had no idea their hearing health had been affected.
Smoking affects your hearing health in a variety of ways.
Cigarettes contain a lot of nasty chemicals, including formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and nicotine. Nicotine and carbon monoxide deplete oxygen levels and constrict blood vessels all over your body – including those in your inner ear responsible for maintaining hair cell health.
- Nicotine interferes with neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve, which are responsible for telling the brain which sound you are hearing.
- Nicotine can cause tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo.
- Smoking irritates the Eustachian tube and lining of the middle ear.
- Smoking damages cells in the body, turning them into free radicals that can damage DNA and cause disease.
- Smoking may also make you more sensitive to loud noises and therefore more susceptible to developing noise-induced hearing loss.
Studies indicate the longer a person smokes – or is exposed to cigarette smoke – the greater the damage to their hearing health. But here’s the good news; according to the American Lung Association, 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure decreases and your circulation improves. Within eight hours, your carbon monoxide and oxygen levels return to normal. In 48 hours, your sense of smell and taste improve and your nerve endings begin to regenerate.
Additional health benefits of quitting according to a CDC fact sheet include:
- Lowered risk of lung cancer and other types of cancer,
- Reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease,
- Reduced respiratory symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath,
- Reduced risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and
- Reduced risk for infertility of women of reproductive age.
While you can’t reverse any sensorineural hearing loss you’ve developed during your smoking years, you can prevent any future nicotine-related damage to your hearing once you quit.
If you’re ready to quit and don’t know where to start, visit smokefree.gov for tips on creating a quit plan and how to handle your first day without cigarettes. The American Lung Association also offers an online Freedom From Smoking program, which contains skills and techniques proven to help smokers quit. And if you believe you may be suffering from hearing loss, contact your local hearing healthcare professional for a hearing exam today.