The Relationship Between Smoking and Hearing Loss
Over the past 40 years, the medical community has recognized the danger smoking presents to hearing health. Pinpointing how smoking affects hearing loss is very difficult because the hearing process is extremely complex. Recent studies (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/40870184_The_effects_of_smoking_and_alcohol_comsumption_on_age-related_hearing_loss_the_Blue_Mountains_Hearing_Study ) have also found smoking to have deleterious effects in individuals not exposed to occupational noise hazards. A 2011 study in mice showed that inhaling cigarette smoke alone may not be damaging to hearing, but exposure to both smoke and noise did reveal hearing loss.
A 2013 study found that passive smoking and the inhalation of second-hand smoke caused mild sensorineural hearing loss in children aged 5-11 years (https://cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/secondhand-smoke). Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss caused by damage to the hair cells lining the cochlea (auditory nerve). Sensorineural hearing loss is the most damaging type of hearing loss and cannot be treated.
The numerous dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke may affect both conductive hearing as well as inner ear hearing by damaging the hair cells in the cochlea. Many studies have found the more cigarettes smoked, the greater degree of hearing loss.
While the mechanisms of damage to the auditory system due to smoke inhalation and exposure are unclear, studies reveal that the following occurs whenever someone smokes a cigarette:
- Nicotine and carbon monoxide deplete oxygen levels to the cochlea. Damage occurs by hypoxia (or lack of oxygen) to the hair cells.
- The neurotransmitters that carry the sensory information along the auditory nerve to the brain are disrupted by nicotine, limiting their function.
- The auditory nerve is not fully developed until late adolescence. This means second hand smoke puts adolescents at risk for hearing impairment.
The link between smoking and hearing loss has not been clearly identified, however evidence indicates that smoking does more harm than good when it comes to your hearing.