An overwhelming amount of research into the health risks of smoking has been done over the last 50 years. It has been established that smoking is one of the riskiest habits not only for people partaking but for everyone around them as well. What most people do not know, however, is how smoking can impair your ability to hear.
The risk associated with smoking to hearing
Oxford University Press published an 8-year study in Nicotine and Tobacco Research that proves smoking is associated with an increased risk of hearing loss. The study, which had over 50 000 participants, analysed data from annual health checkups, which included audio testing performed by a technician and a health-related lifestyle questionnaire completed by each participant.
What the researchers discovered was a 120% to 160% increase in the risk of hearing loss, based on a number of data points including:
– Smoking Status (current, former or never smoker)
– Number of cigarettes smoked per day
– Duration of smoking cessation
The study found that smokers were more likely to lose the ability to hear high-frequency sound than low-frequency sound. The rate of cigarette consumption was also found to be directly proportional to the overall risk of hearing loss.
How smoking damages the ear
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of toxins. Two of these, carbon monoxide and nicotine, affect the middle ear. A key component of the middle ear is the cochlea. This organ is covered in very small hair-like sensory structures called cilia. When sound enters the ear, it makes the cilia vibrate to generate electrical signals that are sent to the brain and interpreted as sound.
Carbon monoxide has very rapid-acting detrimental effects on the cochlea. It bonds to the oxygen-carrying chemical in your red blood cells called haemoglobin, forming carboxyhemoglobin and displacing oxygen. This asphyxiates the cilia, killing these cells and reducing the cochlea’s capacity to interpret sound into electrical signals, which subsequently reduces the range and quality of sound you can actually hear.
Nicotine is a vasoconstrictor, which means it causes the blood vessels to become smaller and this reduces the amount of blood flowing to any part of the body. Coupled with the oxygen-displacing effect of carbon monoxide, this greatly reduces the amount of oxygen delivered to the cilia, which compounds the damage caused by the carbon monoxide and accelerates the rate at which the cilia are asphyxiated and killed off.
Is the damage reversible?
The longer and more frequently one smokes or is exposed to cigarette smoke, the more grievous the damage to hearing. Fortunately, the human body has amazing powers of recovery and the benefits of quitting are almost immediate. 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure decreases and your circulation improves. Within 8 hours, your carbon monoxide and oxygen levels return to normal. In 48 hours, your sense of smell and taste improve and your nerve endings begin to regenerate. While any sensorineural damage incurred while smoking is not reversible, quitting definitely prevents further damage and greatly reduces risk.
If you’re ready to quit and don’t know where to start, CANSA has a great program to help you kick the habit and stay off cigarettes long-term.
There is so much to lose as a smoker and almost everything to gain by quitting. The ability to hear is an amazing gift and it allows us to experience the beauty of music, the hilarity of comedy and the sweet voices of our loved ones. If you do need help with your hearing, you can contact Hearing Works and get great ear care. Quit smoking to keep hearing your life, uninterrupted.