Smokers More Likely to Have Hearing Loss

Smoking can have serious effects for your hearing and overall health and wellness. In addition to sound and wax buildup, your hearing can be affected by the overall health and wellness of your body itself.

Research has established a strong correlation between smoking and hearing loss. While the reason for the link is still under investigation, clinical studies have found that current smokers are nearly two times as likely as nonsmokers to have hearing loss

Several theories aim to explain the link:

  • Smoking can damage blood cells, increasing the likelihood of developing arteriosclerosis. The thickening and subsequent hardening of blood vessels can limit the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs in the body, including the ears.
  • Nicotine and carbon monoxide are thought to deplete oxygen levels in the cochlea causing tissue damage which can lead to hearing loss.
  • Many of the harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are believed to be ototoxic, or “poisonous to the ears.” Ototoxic chemicals can damage hair cells causing hearing loss. The chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters, along the hearing nerve are also susceptible to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke. Chronic nicotine use can impair neurotransmitter function adversely effecting the brain’s ability to interpret sound.
  • When smoking is combined with additional risk factors for hearing loss, including age and noise exposure, the effects appear to be cumulative. Simply stated, additional risk factors increase the risk for hearing loss more than each factor does in isolation.

In summary, the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke, including nicotine and carbon monoxide can deplete oxygen levels in the cochlea causing tissue damage which can cause permanent, irreversible hearing loss. The harmful chemicals may also impair the neurotransmitters that send information from the auditory nerve to the brain, impairing the brain’s ability to interpret sounds. Risk factors for hearing loss appear to be cumulative. When smoking is combined with other hearing loss risk factors such as noise exposure, the risk of developing hearing loss is greater than the risk a factor presents by itself.

Research also found a link between people exposed regularly to secondhand smoke and hearing loss, though the prevalence was lower than for smokers.

Good News for Upcoming Generations

Despite the well-documented health risks associated with smoking, 20 percent of the adult population in the United States smokes. While the smoking stats for adults remains stable, the number of teens who start smoking has decreased. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) less than 10 percent of teens smoke. 

The drop in the number of teens who start smoking is good news. Avoiding the introduction of harmful environmental toxins, like nicotine, is especially important for young adults. Research has shown that the mechanisms within the hearing nerve are not fully developed until late adolescence leaving young people more vulnerable than adults to the hearing related risks associated with smoking. Avoiding the bad habit can eliminate long-term hearing and health related risks.

If you do smoke, it’s not too late to quit! Experts experts concluded “modification of smoking habits may prevent or delay age-related declines in hearing sensitivity.” The adverse effect smoking has on hearing has been linked to the amount of time a person smokes and the number of cigarettes smoked. As the number of cigarettes smoked per day increases the risk of hearing loss also increases. Simply stated, the longer you smoke and the more often you smoke the higher your risk of developing hearing loss, especially in the high-frequency range. Cutting back on the number of cigarettes you smoke per day, could greatly reduce your risk for hearing loss. Quitting reduces your hearing and health related risks even more. 

If you are concerned that smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke has damaged your hearing, contact us today to speak with a hearing professional near you and take our quick, free and easy online hearing loss test here.






By Beth McCormick, Au.D.