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How Are Smoking and Hearing Loss Related?

Smoking can damage your hearing. If you’re one of the 40 million U.S. adults who smokes cigarettes find out why it may be time to get a hearing test.

The connection between smoking and heart disease, cancer, and respiratory problems gets all the attention, but the effects of smoking on hearing have long been known. If you’re one of the 40 million U.S. adults who smokes cigarettes — or someone who lives with a smoker — read on to find out how smoking is linked to hearing loss.

Some Facts

How does smoking affect hearing?

  • Compared to nonsmokers, smokers have a 70% greater chance of developing hearing loss.
  • Nonsmokers are twice as likely to develop hearing loss if they live with a smoker.
  • The greater your daily average of cigarettes, the greater your risk of developing hearing loss.
  • Mothers who smoke during pregnancy increase their child’s risk for developing speech-language problems.
  • If you work around high levels of occupational noise, smoking increases your risk of noise-induced hearing loss.
  • Adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop hearing loss — and they usually aren’t even aware of it.

Some Culprits

Different studies have reported different suggestions for how smoking damages hearing. Here are some common culprits.

Eustachian tube

Your eustachian tube runs from your middle ear to the back of your throat. It equalizes the pressure in your ears, and it drains the mucous created by the lining of your middle ear. Smoking leads to problems — and even blockages — in the eustachian tube, causing pressure buildup and hearing loss.

Blood Pressure

Smoking impacts your blood pressure. What does that have to do with your hearing? The structures in your inner ear depend on good, sturdy blood flow. When your blood pressure changes, your inner ear has difficulty processing sound. In pregnant women, smoking restricts blood flow — and, therefore, the oxygen supply — to the fetus. The developing inner ear doesn’t get enough oxygen, so it develops more slowly and could lead to speech-language problems later.

Neurotransmitters

Neurotransmitters are messengers that carry information between the cells in your body. Nicotine interferes with how your body regulates a key neurotransmitter — one that is crucial for transporting sound information from your inner ear to your brain. This means your brain isn’t getting enough sound input, so it has a harder time making sense of the sounds you hear.

Central nervous system

The parts of your central nervous system that create your ability to hear are still developing in late adolescence. This system is easily damaged by toxins — such as nicotine — during its development, which could explain the prevalence among adolescents of hearing loss due to secondhand smoke.


Though hearing loss caused by smoking can’t be reversed, it’s never too late to quit smoking to avoid further damage to your hearing. Contact us to schedule an appointment to get your hearing tested!
 
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use: Data and Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/index.htm. Accessed July 31, 2018. Cruickshanks KJ, et al. Cigarette Smoking and Hearing Loss: The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study. JAMA. 1998;279(21):1715–1719. Katbamna B. Effects of Smoking on the Auditory System. Audiology Online. October 2008, article 899. https://www.audiologyonline.com/articles/effects-smoking-on-auditory-system-899. Tao L, et al. Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Workers Exposed to Occupational Noise in China. Noise Health. 2013;15(62):67–72. Pezzoli M, et al. Effects of Smoking on Eustachian Tube and Hearing. Int Tinnitus J. 2017;21(2):98–103.

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6 Ways You Can Damage Your Hearing Without Knowing It

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is the most common type of hearing loss, but folks aren’t always sure where their hearing loss comes from. There are some fairly obvious ways to damage your hearing, such as listening to music at excessive volumes, or firing weapons without hearing protection. Then there are situations where protecting your hearing doesn’t seem very important, but doing so might actually prevent further damage. Consider the following sneaky causes of hearing loss.

1) WORKPLACE NOISE

Although many construction and manufacturing jobs state that hearing protection should be worn at all times on the job, these warnings are not always adhered to. Those who wear hearing protection may not be wearing it at all times — it may be removed to talk with co-workers or supervisors despite close proximity to high-noise-producing machines, and depending upon how loud those machines are, damage can be caused fairly quickly. Even with hearing protection, noise damage can slowly accumulate and wear on the delicate hair cells in the inner ear.

2) OTOTOXIC MEDICATION

Ototoxic medications are drugs such as painkillers that have chemical properties that make them toxic to the sensory cells in the ear. Painkillers taken in high quantities create not only a risk for dependency but for losing hearing as well; strong pain medications first cause a ringing in the ears before beginning to have adverse effects on hearing, but the impairment often goes away after discontinued use.

3) SMOKING

Because of the impact and high profile of major diseases caused by smoking, potential hearing damage as a side effect of smoking often flies under the radar. But nicotine is a vasoconstrictor that causes blood vessels to shrink slightly, restricting blood flow to the inner ear and preventing oxygen from reaching it. Over a lifetime, this “suffocates” the ear.

4) DRIVING A CONVERTIBLE

Driving more often creates potential for developing or worsening hearing loss, thanks mostly to the sounds of the road and other passing vehicles. Some cars dampen sound, but convertibles lose that extra layer of “quiet ride” protection, leaving ears exposed to potentially dangerous noise levels around them. An October 2009 study found that driving some convertibles at speeds between 50 and 70 miles per hour exposed drivers to noise levels of 88 to 90 dB — beyond the level where damage begins to occur (85 dB).

5) PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

The squeal and grind of light rails, trains, and even buses coming to a stop have the potential to cause hearing damage to daily riders of public transportation because they’re constantly exposed to noise. Rough or curved tracks prevent smooth rides, leading to more noise. And those who are waiting for their bus or train are exposed to potential traffic on a busy street, which can sometimes reach levels of 100 dB or more.

6) ATTENDING SPORTING EVENTS

Due in part to the nature of sporting events — watching athletes perform — the danger of noise is often forgotten. Many stadiums still manifest crowd noise dangerous enough to damage hearing. Seattle’s CenturyLink Field last year posted a decibel record of 137.6, enough to cause permanent damage in 30 seconds. Noise levels of 115 dBs or more — about the equivalent of a concert — are not uncommon but are safe to experience for only 15 minutes.

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