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A Link Between Hearing Loss and Second-Hand Smoke


Terri Ellert, HIS

Terri has been in practice as a Board-Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist for the past 11 years and is a co-founder of the Hearing Centers of Arizona.
Terri Ellert, HIS

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A Link Between Hearing Loss and Second-Hand Smoke

Percentages are high, up to 70%, that you will experience hearing loss if you are a smoker, but studies have also linked hearing loss to exposure to second hand smoke. Researchers have been looking at the link for more than 10 years now. If you think your exposure to second hand smoke has harmed your hearing, make an appointment today at the Hearing Centers of Arizona for a hearing evaluation.


Dangers of second-hand smoke

A study that looked at second hand smoke data reviewed data from 3,307 adults between the ages of 29 and 69 who met the criteria as being exposed to second hand smoke. Almost 10% of the group showed hearing loss. Data has shown smokers are highly likely to experience hearing loss and now additional research shows non-smokers living with smokers are twice as likely to develop hearing loss.

Giving up smoking is a great first step, staying in that environment where there is cigarette smoking such as work or with a smoking family member, still may result in hearing loss. Symptoms of the start of hearing loss from continued exposure to second hand smoke would be muffled hearing initially affecting conversational listening.


Medical information

Nicotine and carbon monoxide, toxins associated with smoking, cause blood vessels including the delicate blood vessels located in the inner ear to constrict.  Neurotransmitters, the nerve transmitters that send a message from the brain to the ear for auditory function are also affected by nicotine.  Damage to the neurotransmitters causes a loss of comprehension creating what smokers describe as muffled hearing. This leads to comprehension issues during conversations as well as understanding sound from the television. The damage cannot be reversed. Nicotine levels, including the derivatives of nicotine that are absorbed through second hand smoke exposure, can cause tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo. Second hand smoke exposure of more than 10 hours per week has been associated with a 40% increased risk of hearing loss.


Risk higher for children, teens and infants

Studies estimate about 60% of children in the United States are exposed to second-hand smoke. About 26% of adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes, and 50 to 67% of children under five live in homes with at least one adult smoker. Second hand smoke exposure is particularly damaging to children and adolescents because their auditory systems are not fully developed.

A recent study reviewed data from nearly 51,000 children who were 3 years old. If a child’s mother smoked prior to pregnancy, they were 26% more likely to experience hearing loss. If a child was exposed to second hand smoke from birth to four months, there was a 30% chance.

Prenatal or childhood exposure to second hand smoke has been linked to low birth rates, sudden infant death syndrome, upper and lower respiratory infections as well as hearing loss.

Teens exposed to second hand smoke experience low- and high-frequency hearing loss.  That same study showed more than 80% of the teens suffering from hearing loss didn’t realize they had hearing issues. This could cause teens to miss items in class and not hear instructions. Teens with hearing loss had muffled hearing and difficulty understanding high-pitched women’s and children’s voices.


Ear infections

Children exposed to second hand smoke are at risk of developing a variety of health issues from respiratory infections to acute ear infections. Chronic ear infections can result in hearing loss. Exposure to second hand smoke not only increases the number of ear infections a child will experience, but also the duration and severity of the infections. Inhaled second hand smoke irritates the eustachian tube, which connects the back of the nose with the middle ear. This causes swelling and obstruction which interferes with pressure equalization in the middle ear, leading to pain, fluid and infection. Swelling can constrict blood vessels leading to permanent inner ear damage.

Get a hearing test

Hearing Centers of Arizona can do a hearing evaluation regardless of your age and everyone should have a yearly hearing test. If you feel your hearing has been damaged due to second hand smoke, age, workplace noise – or any combination – get a hearing test today. We can put you on the path to better hearing!


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