by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A man asked:
While it is common knowledge that smoking is harmful to the lungs, I have been told that smoking may damage hearing as well. Is this true? I could not find a reference to this in your list of ototoxic drugs on your website.
The Hearing Loss Help website does not contain a complete list of the many ototoxic drugs–only a small representative sample–thus nicotine is not included there. The complete list (single-spaced) would be 43 pages long! (The book “Ototoxic Drugs Exposed” is the only source that contains a reasonably complete list as far as I know.)
There are several aspects to consider when discussing smoking and hearing loss:
1. When people think of smoking, they think of the side effects of nicotine. Nicotine is indeed an ototoxic drug and has been associated with such unwanted ototoxic side effects as hearing disorders, tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo.
2. Most people know that smoking constricts the blood vessels. This means it also constricts the tiny blood vessels in your inner ears. This cuts down the blood flow (and life-giving oxygen) to your inner ears. In turn, the lack of oxygen makes the hair cells “sick” (to use a fancy medical term) and thus temporarily reduces hearing.
3. Another aspect of smoking that few think about is that it produces free radicals in our bodies. Anything that produces free radicals in our bodies can damage our hearing if the free radicals end up in our inner ears where they “zap” the hair cells and sometimes damage or kill them. This results in permanent hearing loss.
4. Finally, and this is also not well known, smoking makes your ears even more sensitive to loud noise. Thus, if you smoke and are around loud noise, the damage to your ears will be even more severe than it would have been had you not smoked.
So no matter how you slice it, smoking is not good for your ears (or the rest of your body either).