Most people know that cigarette smoking carries a myriad of health risks. But did you know that cigarette smoke can also damage your hearing? If you’re a smoker – or live with someone who smokes – chances are your hearing is at risk.

Smoking affects your hearing health in a variety of ways:

  • Cigarettes contain many harmful chemicals that are believed to be ototoxic, or “poisonous to the ears.” Ototoxic chemicals can damage hair cells causing hearing loss.
  • Nicotine and carbon monoxide deplete oxygen levels and constrict blood vessels all over your body – including those in your inner ear responsible for maintaining hair cell health.
  • Nicotine interferes with neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve, which are responsible for telling the brain which sound you are hearing.
  • Nicotine can cause tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo.
  • Smoking irritates the Eustachian tube and lining of the middle ear.
  • Smoking damages cells in the body, turning them into free radicals that can damage DNA and cause disease.
  • Smoking may also make you more sensitive to loud noises and therefore more susceptible to developing noise-induced hearing loss.

Research results suggest that smokers are nearly 2 times more likely to develop hearing loss than non-smokers. And, these odds increase with the number of years the person has been smoking.

Secondhand smoke can also be dangerous to hearing. Adult non-smokers who live with a smoker show increased rates of hearing loss. Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke from the burning cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. Besides contaminating the air others breathe, it is retained in clothing, curtains, furniture, etc. and continues to be released to be inhaled over time.

Children have also been shown to be adversely affected by secondhand smoke. Children exposed to secondhand smoke have more ear infections and longer bouts with the disorder than children not exposed to cigarette smoke. Smoke can cause irritation, swelling and obstruction of the Eustachian Tube. This can interfere with pressure equalization in the middle ear, leading to pain, fluid, and infection. Ear infections are the most common cause of children’s hearing loss. When ear infections do not respond to medical treatment, surgery to insert PE (pressure equalizations) tubes may be required.

Cigarette smoke is damaging to the body, and not it seems, may adversely affect hearing as well.