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

In Hearing Health by Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A

Roselynn Gamboa Young, Au.D., CCC-A
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Many of the risk factors for hearing loss have to do with hearing-related behavior. For instance, those who work in noisy places of business have higher risk of noise-induced hearing loss. Similarly, those who take part in recreational activities that subject them to loud sound, such as attending sporting events at big arenas or going to loud concerts, can have higher risk of hearing loss. Even using earbuds at a high volume is enough to cause hearing loss, and young people are showing higher rates of hearing loss for this reason. Beyond these direct causes of hearing loss, some lifestyle behaviors have also been associated with higher rates of loss. One such behavior is smoking. A recent study has shown that not only current smokers but also past smokers are at high risk of hearing loss. While researchers explore the way this connection works in the body, we can use the raw statistics to get a better sense of hearing loss prevention.


Women Smokers and Hearing Loss


This study took a look specifically at a dataset on women with a history of smoking. The researchers simply took a look at a big survey that collected information about both smoking and hearing loss. They were able to simply correlate these two responses to find out that a relationship exists between them. The dataset included 81,505 women, 2,760 of whom reported hearing loss. Within the group who reported hearing loss, 66.5 percent were never smokers, 22.4 percent were past smokers, and 11.1 percent were current smokers. The survey also collected information about the number of “pack years” smoked. Those who spent more “pack years” smoking had a higher likelihood of hearing loss. The risk of hearing loss tended to reduce when a respondent had 10 to 14 years since quitting. However, those who were former smokers still had a higher risk of hearing loss than those who had never smoked at all. 


Hearing Loss Prevention


What can we take away from this report? In the first place, it is clear that smoking cessation is a good way to reduce your risk of hearing loss, but it might not eliminate your risk altogether. Particularly for those who have spent many years smoking, there may be a continued risk of hearing loss in to the future. Smoking cessation takes many forms, and you can contact your doctor for advice about the best course of action. Whether you employ patches, gums, or other smoking cessation aids, quitting smoking is beneficial not only for your hearing health but also for many other health concerns. 


Another important finding of this report is that hearing ability is connected to other lifestyle behaviors that affect the body. Particularly those that have to do with oxygen in the bloodstream seem to have a relationship with hearing health. Other studies have found that good nutrition, such as the Mediterranean diet, is linked to better outcomes regarding hearing loss. It seems that supplying the body with healthy food not only helps keep the heart and blood vessels strong but it also enables the supply of oxygen to the ears. Similarly, getting plenty of physical activity is another way to support hearing health. When our hearts are strong and blood vessels are clear of blockage, we can send along oxygen to all parts of the body, including the ears. The tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia are incredibly sensitive to changes of pressure. This same sensitivity that makes them able to detect differences in frequencies of sound also renders them fragile to damage. A lack of oxygen in the bloodstream can easily harm these hair cells, and smoking is known to limit the flow of oxygen through the body. If you are a current or former smoker, it is wise to get a hearing test. If you don’t have hearing loss, that reading will be a good baseline measure for future tests. If you do have hearing loss, our hearing health professionals can point you in the direction of the treatment solutions you need. We are here to help you with all your hearing-related healthcare needs.