Understanding the Relationship Between Smoking and Hearing Damage

It is known that smoking affects hearing. This blog discusses how smoking impacts your auditory system, the role of the harmful chemicals in cigarettes in hearing impairment, the impact of vaping, whether quitting smoking improves hearing, and the benefits of quitting smoking.

How Does Smoking Affect the Auditory System?

Smoking adversely affects the auditory system of both male and female smokers. It can cause sensorineural hearing loss at higher frequencies. This occurs as a result of harmful substances contained within tobacco smoke, including tar, toluene, styrene, xylene, lead, and carbon monoxide. These substances can cause damage both directly and indirectly: reactive oxygen species (resulting from toluene, styrene, and similar chemicals, and commonly known as “free radicals”) cause direct impact by damaging inner ear cells, and nicotine causes indirect damage, leading to atherosclerosis (thickening or hardening of the arteries) of the auditory system.

The Role of Harmful Chemicals in Cigarettes in Hearing Loss

The primary harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke are:

  • Nicotine: Regular nicotine intake damages the auditory nerve neurotransmitters, resulting in hearing loss.
    Nicotine is also known to cause other auditory-related issues such as tinnitus, dizziness, and vertigo, as well as to irritate the lining of the middle ear and the Eustachian tubes, and to release disease-causing free radicals.
  • Carbon monoxide: Carbon monoxide lowers oxygen levels in your blood and constricts blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the inner ear. Damage to the delicate cochlea hair cells due to oxygen deficiency affects your ear’s ability to translate sound vibrations into electrical impulses, which are then sent to the brain.

How Does Passive Smoking Impact Hearing Loss?

Smoking and hearing loss are not limited to the smoker but may also impact adults and children who inhale passive cigarette smoke. Children may be more vulnerable to hearing loss caused by smoking as their auditory systems do not fully develop until adolescence.

Secondhand smoke may be responsible for other health complications in infants and children, including:

  • Frequent asthma flare-ups
  • Respiratory infections
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Also, prenatal exposure to maternal smoking during pregnancy may put toddlers at a higher risk of hearing impairment.

Does Vaping Cause Hearing Impairment?

Vaping or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are considered a newer and less harmful alternative to cigarettes and are widely popular among teens and adults. However, if you vape, you may be exposed to several toxic chemicals, including nicotine and tar, present in the vaping liquid and cartridges. Those substances pose similar risks to inner ear hair cell damage as do cigarettes, leading to impaired hearing and hearing loss.

Does Quitting Smoking Improve Your Hearing?

Yes, research indicates that quitting smoking may improve hearing health. This is corroborated by a study published in 2022 that found that the group of smokers who quit smoking scored better in the Quick Speech-in-Noise Test (QuickSIN) compared to those who continued smoking.

According to the American Lung Association, within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate normalizes; within 12-24 hours, the carbon monoxide and oxygen levels drop to normal, and within 48 hours, the damaged nerve endings start their regeneration process. All of this can positively impact hearing ability.

Positive Effects of Quitting Smoking on Hearing

As mentioned above, you can experience the immense benefits of quitting smoking almost immediately. Other benefits of quitting smoking on hearing include:

  • Blood oxygen levels improve
  • Increased energy
  • Reduced breathing issues
  • Better blood circulation
  • Improved lung strength
  • Reduced hearing impairment risks

Other significant long-term positive effects of quitting smoking include decreased risks of:

  • Lung and other types of cancer
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Respiratory disorders, including coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Infertility among women of reproductive age
  • Smoking-induced hearing loss risk is nearly eliminated

Quit Smoking and Restore Your Hearing with Hoffmann Audiology

Hoffmann Audiology has been a premier audiology center in Irvine, CA, for over 18 years. We provide a broad spectrum of the most advanced hearing-related services, including hearing tests, tinnitus, hearing aid evaluation, fitting, repair, and aural rehabilitation. If you are looking for the best audiologist near you to improve your hearing, contact us today for an appointment request or to learn more about our offerings.


Chris Lin Hoffmann

Dr. Chris Hoffmann is an audiologist who has been involved in hearing sciences for over 20 years. Her passion for helping people with their hearing led her to establish Hoffmann Audiology hearing clinic. Dr. Hoffmann has more than 14 years of clinical knowledge in hearing testing, hearing aid fittings, and aural rehabilitation.

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