Most everyone is aware of the negative effects smoking can have on health, but many are likely unaware of the effect the habit may have on hearing.
The findings in a recent study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that smokers in the study group were 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss than their non-smoker counterparts. Current smokers were also 20% more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss, which makes detecting deep voices and sounds extremely difficult.
Among study participants, the degree of hearing loss increased with the number of cigarettes smoked each day. Hearing improvements were seen even among participants who had quit five years prior to the start of the study (baseline).
The findings of the study are significant given how pervasive smoking still is. Despite the fact that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the US and accounts for about one in five deaths, recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that 15 out of every 100 adults are smokers.
The Nicotine and Tobacco Research study is not the first to investigate the potentially causal relationship between tobacco use and hearing loss. Another study, published in the Tinnitus International Journal, found that many smokers suffer from tubal dysfunction in the ear, which means smoking may increase the incidence of middle ear diseases or nonspecific hearing loss symptoms like ear fullness and difficulties in middle ear equalization.
Ultimately, smoking cessation is the best way to reduce the risk of hearing loss related to tobacco use.
“Quitting smoking virtually eliminates the excess risk of hearing loss, even among quitters with short duration of cessation,” leader author Huanhuan Hu of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Tokyo explained to Reuters in an email. “Because the risk of hearing loss increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, if quitting is impossible people should still smoke as little as possible.”