Yes, one more reason to quit smoking. Smoking - which has proven to deteriorate a person’s health by causing different types of cancer and various cardiovascular and respiratory problems - is also associated with a defect in the hearing mechanism. The deficiency leads to a hearing loss. As per the reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of a million individuals die due to health problems caused by smoking every year.
The association between hearing and smoking has been suspected in earlier studies, but it was only confirmed in recent research studies by hearing health experts. Various studies show that smokers are 70% more likely to present with a hearing loss than people who do not smoke. The risk is also seen to double up in passive smoking than ones who were not exposed to smoke at all. Earlier studies showed that the risk is directly related to a number of cigarettes smoked and smoking years. An increased prevalence has also been documented in young teens who smoke or have been exposed to smoke. The risk is almost increased to two to three times in them than non-smokers.
With every puff of smoke, many toxic chemicals like nicotine, formaldehyde, vinyl chloride, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and many other toxins are inhaled. Many of these toxins have a property to damage the ears, making them “ototoxic-causing” hearing problems, tinnitus, and balance problems. The auditory nerve carrying hearing signals from the ear to the brain is not fully developed until adolescence and is more prone to the chemicals inhaled during smoking. This puts kids and adolescents at a higher risk of hearing loss.
Digging Deeper into Smoking and Hearing Loss
Smoking is known to cause sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) (hearing loss caused due to damage to the nerves) by various mechanisms. It also causes direct damage to the cochlea. Cochlea is the snail-like hearing organ present in the inner ear. Smoking affects the cochlea by reducing blood supply through smoking-induced atherosclerosis (fat deposition) of the cochlear blood vessels. Nicotine can also constrict blood vessels, thus further decreasing the blood supply. Many oxygen-free radicals are produced due to smoking; these free radicals go and cause oxidative damage to hair cells of cochlea. Among many various chemicals, carbon monoxide is the dangerous chemical inhaled through smoking. The inhalation leads to the production of carboxyhemoglobin that has reduced affinity to oxygen, thus creating a hypoxic environment in the ear. Hair cells are sensitive to hypoxia and free radicals. Nicotine is also associated with decreased neurotransmitter activity in the auditory nerve, the most important nerve in transmitting hearing signals to the brain. It also damages the Eustachian tube and lining of the middle ear cavity.
Nicotine causes tinnitus, dizziness, and vertigo. It is also associated with noise-induced hearing loss. It is more frequently shown in studies to cause a problem with hearing in a noisy environment. However, other studies have shown no association between smoking and hearing loss. But it is better to quit smoking as it helps to improve other health conditions of an individual.
The bottom line is, you could be a smoker trying to quit gradually. In the course of quitting smoking, you noticed that you have hearing problems. In that case, the best bet is to consult a physician or any hearing health expert who can help you evaluate your loss.