While the two most common causes of hearing loss are exposure to loud noise and aging, certain chemicals can damage the inner ear and other physical processes involved in hearing. One major source of harmful chemicals is cigarettes. The dangers of smoking are well-known, but research is increasingly showing that vaping isn’t any safer.
How Smoking Affects Hearing Health
Smoking impacts your blood pressure, and the structures in your inner ear depend on good, sturdy blood flow to function properly. When blood pressure changes, the inner ear has difficulty processing sound. In pregnant people, smoking also restricts blood flow and oxygen supply to the fetus. If the developing inner ear doesn’t get enough oxygen, it may develop more slowly and lead to speech-language problems later on.
Central nervous system
The parts of the central nervous system (CNS) responsible for hearing continue to develop well into adolescence. During childhood, the CNS is easily damaged by toxins such as nicotine, which could explain the prevalence of hearing loss among adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke. Indeed, one study showed a higher incidence of sensorineural hearing loss in adolescents and a 60% increase in otitis media among children and teens exposed to secondhand smoke. The chemicals in smoke also irritate the eustachian tube, which contributes to ear infections and hearing difficulties.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry information between cells in your body. Nicotine interferes with how the body regulates neurotransmitters, changing how they transport sound information from the inner ear to the brain. If the brain doesn’t receive enough sound input, it has a harder time making sense of the sounds you hear. Some researchers suspect that smoking may also cause tinnitus.
Vaping Isn’t a Safe Alternative
Not only do e-cigarettes contain the same amount of nicotine (or more) as traditional cigarettes, but, for a long time, many of their flavored additives were unregulated by the FDA. While there are stronger protections in place now, manufactures are still looking for loopholes and new ways to produce vape products that escape federal oversight, so we don’t always know what kinds of chemicals may be present in vape juice. They could be ototoxic, cardiotoxic, hepatoxic, or nephrotoxic. Additionally, nicotine is one of the most addictive substances around and there is currently no research indicating that vaping is any easier to quit than smoking.
What’s worse is that many smokers use e-cigarettes and regular combustible cigarettes. According to two recent studies supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, smoking and vaping each increase different biomarkers for cardiovascular disease, which means that using them together can cause greater health risks than using just one product individually.
Tips for Quitting
The good news is, there is some evidence that smoking cessation may benefit hearing health. We know quitting is tough, but here are some tips for success:
- Discuss your plans with a physician and determine whether medical support is necessary.
- Boost your mood and diet by including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy, whole foods in your daily meals.
- Remove temptation by disposing of cigarettes, vapes, ash trays, and smoking/vaping accessories. Check everywhere! Don’t forget the ones you may have stashed in your car, garage, office, or spare room.
- Remember the benefits of a tobacco-free life — write down a list of reasons for quitting and refer to it whenever you feel tempted to resume.
- Be realistic with your goals and don’t get demoralized if there are setbacks. Habits can be very difficult to break. Struggling is normal and won’t prevent you from succeeding in the long-term. You can do this!
It’s never too late to quit smoking and vaping to avoid further damage to your hearing. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to get your hearing tested and explore your treatment options.