Bet You Never Heard of This Side Effect of Second-Hand Smoke

Hand with a cigarette harming people with second hand smoke and causing hearing loss.

Smoking is bad…really bad. We’ve known this for quite some time (and the tobacco companies have known it for even longer). But we’re still learning new and horrific ways that smoking cigarettes is awful for your body. Exposure to smoke, even second-hand, can eventually make you go deaf.

Which makes sense when you think about it. Your ears, nose, and throat are all connected, so your ears are on the front lines in the war against toxins introduced by cigarettes. Still, it feels a little counterintuitive. It’s even more surprising that you don’t even have to do the smoking yourself to experience it. Inhaling second-hand smoke is enough to damage your hearing over the long run.

How does smoking harm your hearing?

According to research published in 1998, smokers are 70% more likely than non-smokers to suffer from hearing loss. And that study backs up initial findings that were reported in 1962.

The link between hearing loss and smoking is well established, but it’s not exactly well known. According to a 2011 study (yes, this topic has been well studied), 80% of young smokers had no idea that their hearing was being affected.

And, unfortunately, there isn’t just one mechanism that’s at work here:

  • The Eustachian Tube (I Googled it, so you didn’t have to) and lining of the middle ear are both directly irritated by smoking tobacco products.
  • The nicotine acts as neuromodulators, interfering with the proper functioning of your auditory nerves.
  • Smoking itself can cause severe tinnitus in your ears.

Basically, it’s a mess. And it’s not only the tobacco that’s causing problems, so all of you young kids who are vaping instead of smoking are officially on notice as well: smoking will likely cause long-term damage to your ability to hear.

It’s not just smoking

Grown adults, generally speaking, can make decisions for themselves. So if you smoke knowing that it’s awful for your skin, lungs, teeth, gums, digestive system, mouth, nose, eyes, blood pressure, heart, and so on, that’s your decision. (It’s not a great decision, but it’s on you, and that’s okay).

The problem when it comes to protecting your hearing is that it seems as though second-hand smoke is enough to cause significant damage. And there’s some new research that suggests second-hand smoke can cause significant and long-term damage to one’s hearing, especially for kids.

Second-hand smoke and kids

There are all kinds of reasons not to smoke around kids. But a study, published in January of 2019, shows significant hearing issues that develop with kids even after a short duration around second-hand smoke.

The study itself looked at roughly one-hundred children, comparing 50 otherwise healthy kids to 50 kids who were around second-hand smoke. Researchers described a statistical difference in the children’s abilities to hear certain tones (I bet you can guess which group could hear better–yes, the group of kids who were not exposed to smoke).

It’s never too late

Even small amounts of second-hand smoke were shown to negatively affect the hearing of children. And there are piles of research papers that show the negative effects on hearing of smoking itself. But it’s important to remember that it’s never too late to quit.

Maybe you love music. Or you love the voices of your kids. The point is that the sooner you stop smoking, the more quickly you’ll be able to stem the damage and preserve what’s left of your hearing. A highly trained hearing specialist can help you develop a treatment plan that can help you preserve the hearing you have left.

So it’s never too late. Hopefully, this surprising side effect of exposure to smoke–that not only does it damage the smoker’s hearing, but the hearing of those around the smoker as well–can help motivate you to quit. (Seriously, consider it.)


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