The Fate of Your Hearing Could be In the Air

A recent study conducted by Manchester University connects smokers, or those who have been exposed to secondary smoke from smokers, to hearing loss. People who were not subjected to tobacco smoke had a reduced incidence of hearing loss compared to those who were smokers or had been continuously exposed to second hand smoke. Smoking has been linked to heart disease and various cancers, but this study shows the extent smoking can harm the smoker and those around them.

The statistics are clearly not in favor of exposure to tobacco smoke, with active smokers having a 15.1 percent higher incidence of hearing loss, and those exposed to passive smoke showing a 28 percent higher incidence. The higher rate for non-smokers seems skewed based on the findings. However, researchers believe this difference exists, not because of a direct connection between secondary smoke and hearing loss, but because those exposed to secondary smoke were only compared to non-smokers when compiling the data. However, because there was no comparison between smokers and passive smokers, the danger could be even greater to the active smokers than reported. Even if the incidence rate for passive smokers is lower, it still does not bode well for those who choose to continually expose themselves to smoke filled environments.

Exactly what causes the hearing loss is unknown. One theory is that there are toxins in tobacco that cause microvascular changes in the body, specifically the cardiovascular system. These changes can be attributed to hearing loss, though the toxins may also affect the hearing directly. A third possibility is that the hearing loss is caused by a combination of the two.

It is estimated that there may be as many as 60 percent of the world population that engages in some form of tobacco smoking. That, according to Dr. Piers Hawes of the University of Manchester, presents itself as a potential major health issue given an aging world population. This large population of smokers may make hearing loss a global problem in the years to come. As the leader of the research team, Dr. Hawes noted that the more you smoke and the longer you smoke, the greater chance there is of suffering from some degree of hearing loss later in life.

Specifically in the United Kingdom, approximately 20 percent of the population smokes tobacco, presenting an increasing problem with its own aging population. Dr. Ralph Holme, who is the head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss said, “Hearing loss affects 10 million people in the UK and with an aging population is set to become a major public health issue.”

Dr. Holme pointed out that hearing loss has been considered to be just another sign of aging. This research brings that reasoning into question. He recommends that people should avoid continued exposure to loud noises and stop smoking to minimize the possibility of hearing loss in later years.

The study was published in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology. Participating in the study were 164,770 British adults between the ages of 40 to 69 years who took hearing tests between 2007 and 2010.

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