A Link between Hearing Loss & Second Hand Smoke

A Link between Hearing Loss & Second Hand Smoke

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.

Hearing loss is a major public health issue. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is the third most common medical condition people experience today. Extensive research explores risk factors that can cause hearing loss. Previous studies highlighted smoking as a risk factor that increases the risk of developing hearing loss. But recent research shows that second hand smoke can also increase the risk of hearing loss. 

Link between Hearing Loss & Second Hand Smoke

Extensive research has already highlighted that smokers are more likely to develop hearing loss compared to nonsmokers. This includes a study published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research Journal which found that participants who smoked were 60% more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss and 20% more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss. Further research also highlights a correlation between second-hand smoke and hearing loss. 

A major study that investigated the link between second hand smoke and hearing loss included assessing 3,307 adults who were between 29 – 69 years old. Participants had their hearing comprehensively evaluated and reported their smoking behavior. Researchers found that: 

  • 10% of the group showed hearing loss
  • Smokers were 70% more likely than non-smokers to develop hearing loss
  • Non-smokers living with smokers were twice as likely to develop hearing loss.

These findings highlight that both smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to develop hearing loss. This study contributes to greater research that highlights that second hand exposure to smoke can also impact the auditory system and be a risk factor for hearing loss. 

Impact of Second Hand Smoke on Hearing Health

Second-hand smoke exposure can impact hearing health in a few ways. Experts suggest that the auditory system can be impacted in the following ways: 

  • Decreases blood circulation: nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes can impact blood flow by restricting blood vessels. This includes the blood vessels in the ear which impacts the blood supply the ears receive. Not receiving enough blood and oxygen can impact the hair cells in the inner ear. These sensory cells play a critical role in how sound is absorbed and processed. They send auditory information to the brain which then further processes and assigns meaning to the signals it receives, allowing us to understand what we hear. Restricted blood flow can disrupt this process, contributing to hearing loss. 
  • Increases blood pressure: exposure to smoke can also increase blood pressure as well as heart rate, contributing to hypertension. This can restrict arteries which increase health risks including heart attack, stroke, and blood clots. This can damage components in the inner ear, contributing to hearing loss. 
  • Nerve damage: nicotine exposure can affect the nerves and neural pathways in the ears as well as leading to the brain. This can disrupt neurotransmitters from sending auditory information from the ears to the brain, contributing to hearing loss. 

Second-hand smoke can impact health in various ways including increasing the risk of hearing loss. Fortunately, there are safety measures you can implement to prevent this, protecting your hearing health. 

Tips to Protect Hearing Health

There are a few tips you can integrate into your life to protect your hearing health. This includes: 

  • Reducing exposure: be sure to avoid secondhand smoke exposure as much as possible. If you live with a smoker, ask them to smoke outside and not near you. Avoid places that are compact and don’t have separate spaces for smokers etc. 
  • Practice a healthy lifestyle: there are ways you can support healthy blood flow including: exercising, eating a healthy diet, finding healthy strategies to process stress, getting quality sleep etc. 
  • Regularly test hearing health: another great tip is to have your hearing tested regularly. A good way to do this is to incorporate a hearing test in your yearly health screenings. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears which identifies any hearing loss. Getting tested regularly allows you to track your hearing health and address symptoms early if your hearing health changes over time. 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. Our practice offers comprehensive services, individualized care, and effective hearing solutions for your needs.