Current & Former Smokers May Be at Higher Risk for Hearing Loss(1)

Current & Former Smokers May Be at Higher Risk for Hearing Loss  

In Uncategorized by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
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Smoking can be hard on your health in many different ways. Most notoriously, smoking can lead to a variety of types of cancer and is also associated with heart disease. New research is also finding that smoking is connected with a person’s risk of developing hearing loss. Studying data from over 81,000 women reporting to the American Nurses Health Study II, patterns and connections between hearing loss and smoking became clear.

Why Would Smoking Affect Hearing Loss?

The connections between smoking and hearing loss are not fully understood, but they are likely to involve the way smoking restricts circulation. Smoking has long been shown to worsen blood flow throughout the body. When blood can’t get everywhere it needs to go, it actually becomes quite a big issue for our hearing. 

We rely on very small sensory cells to detect sound. These sensory cells line the walls of the inner ear and are so fine they can detect the vibrations of sound waves in the ear. Sadly, their delicacy can also be their undoing. These cells are dependent on a network of tiny blood vessels for nourishment. If blood flow is curtailed, these cells essentially starve to death. Worse, these specialized sensory cells cannot replace themselves, so when blood flow is cut off (say, through smoking)there is the potential they will be permanently damaged and lessen our ability to hear (AKA, hearing loss).

The Amount Matters

Processing data from 81,505 women, the study compared cases of moderate or worse hearing loss between non-smokers (66.5% of participants), past smokers (22.4%) and active smokers (11.1%). What they found was that both active smokers and past smokers developed hearing loss significantly more often than non-smokers. 

The amount smoked also seems to play a role in the health risk involved. Smokers with the biggest cigarette consumption also led the statistics in hearing loss incidences, and risk lowered alongside the amount smoked.

Quitting Is Important

While current and past smokers both carry an elevated risk of hearing loss, quitting a smoking habit can help minimize it. Data shows that after quitting, the risk of developing hearing loss declines for the first 10-14 years. After 14 years, statistics plateau at a risk rate still slightly higher than never-smokers but quite reduced from current smokers and those who have recently quit.  

Data has also been calibrated to take into account the amount of smoking done prior to quitting by former smokers, which also seemed to confirm the general principle that larger smoking habits come with larger health risks, including hearing loss. Seen as a whole population, once a person quits smoking, their elevated risk of hearing loss drops by roughly 10% every 5 years, until plateauing around year 15. This shows that, at least in this case, quitting smoking will not necessarily restore full health, but may significantly improve health outcomes.

Resolve To Quit

There are many risks and only scant reasons to smoke. Widely recognized as a key lifestyle factor to improving your overall well being, resolving to quit can make powerful and positive health changes in your life. Smoking contributes to shorter lifespan and worse immunity and health outcomes. 

After a year shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also seen how important respiratory health is to our lives. Statistics are showing that smokers were more likely to develop severe illness when infected with COVID-19. Even when a pandemic respiratory disease is not occuring, smoking increases the risk of heart disease and cancers of the mouth, lungs and throat.

Treat Hearing Loss

Recognizing hearing loss is only half the battle. While most cases of hearing loss are permanent and cannot be cured, hearing loss can be effectively treated using hearing aids. Hearing aids work to offer customized amplification for challenging sounds and vastly improve your listening, comprehension and communication. Untreated, hearing loss can provoke severe cognitive strain, even contributing to diseases such as dementia. Using hearing aids has recently been shown to alleviate this mental stress, increase cognitive performance and lessen dementia risk. Your hearing and health affect every part of your life, so when issues arise, always treat them seriously and talk to our team about treatment options. We’re here to help!