Kicking the cigarette habit tops New Year resolutions lists for millions of Americans, and for multiple reasons. Stopping smoking improves your circulation; lowers you risk of a multitude of health ailments including lung disease or cancer, heart attack or stroke, coronary disease, throat cancer, emphysema and allergies; boosts lung function, allowing you to breathe easier; and improves the look of your skin, hair and fingernails.
But there’s another great reason to nix the habit, says Dr. Kalpana DePasqaule of St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat. Though it hasn’t been studied as deeply as links with other complications, smoking has been known by scientists and doctors for decades to have a link with hearing loss. And a recently published report AudiologyOnline from Western Michigan University backs that claim.
The hearing process and mechanisms are extremely complex. When a sound is produced, it activates a disturbance in the air in the form of sound waves. These sound waves travel into the outer ear and down the ear canal, where they vibrate the tympanic membrane, more commonly known as the ear drum. The vibrations then pass through three small bones to the fluid- and blood-filled cochlea and are picked up by tiny, hair-like cells, which transmit sound to the brain via electrical impulses along the auditory nerve.
WMU’s report suggests that the myriad of toxic chemicals drawn into the body with each inhalation of cigarette smoke can significantly affect the middle ear vibrations and the inner ear hair cells. It’s no surprise when you consider that those toxins include formaldehyde, benzene, arsenic, vinyl chloride, ammonia, hydrogen cyanide and upward of 1,000 other substances. It’s believed that these adverse effects happen in three ways:
- Nicotine and carbon monoxide may deplete oxygen levels in the cochlea, which can cause tissue damage;
- Nicotine also is thought to damage neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve. These neurotransmitters essentially function as chemical messengers to the brain. If they’re damaged, they’re unable to deliver those messages;
- Environmental toxins introduced into the body during adolescence, when mechanisms within the hearing nerve are not yet fully developed, can cause significant damage and impair further development.
If you’re a smoker determined to kick the habit, there no doubt are services in your area to help. Did you start smoking as an adolescent, or have you smoked for a long period of time? If so, call 904-461-6060 and schedule a hearing screening today. We’ll help you determine whether you’ve suffered hearing loss and discuss ways to help improve your hearing.