Q: As time goes on, I’m discovering more and more how my hearing is related to other areas of my health. Is there any unusual relationship that I should be aware of?
A: You’re absolutely correct. Overall, our health is connected and different areas can affect other areas. Hearing can have a direct relationship to diabetes, heart disease, and depression. You may be surprised to learn that smoking (both firsthand and secondhand) increases your chance of developing a hearing loss significantly.
Smoking cigarettes and even cigars may cause the nose and throat to be irritated and, in turn, develop mucus, which is made up of bacteria. Because there are bacteria cells in the mucus, it can increase the opportunity to develop into an ear infection. When one is exposed to secondhand smoke, it increases the risk of ear infections, especially in babies and young children since this age group is prone to infections due to their underdeveloped immune systems. In fact, being exposed to tobacco smoke for more than 10 hours per week actually increases the risk of developing hearing loss by 40% compared to non-smokers, and heavier smokers have an elevated risk.
Hearing loss is indirectly related to smoking because smoking leads to heart disease. Cardiovascular problems arise when blood supply is reduced; when you smoke, blood supply to the ears decreases. As a result, sensory cells in the ears start to die. Moreover, the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke can adversely affect the middle ear vibrations as well as the inner ear. Because of this, smoking can eventually impair the brain’s ability to hear sounds altogether.
The good news is that former smokers have no increased risk for hearing loss. Therefore, it’s highly encouraged to quit smoking to eliminate this risk completely. Regardless of age, ethnicity, or even level of noise exposure, smoking and hearing loss are inextricably linked. While we’ve heard many reasons why it’s important to quit smoking altogether, potential hearing loss is another motive to kick the habit. If you do decide to quit smoking (kudos to you!), be sure to have a comprehensive hearing evaluation performed to assess any damage. It’s never too late to quit! ❦