Even passive exposure, being around smokers, can increase risk of hearing loss.
The study, funded in part by the National Institute for Health Research, found that current smokers are over 15 percent more likely to suffer from partial hearing loss than non-smokers.
However, there is something smokers can do: quit. People who had quit smoking and adopted more healthy lifestyles did see a reduced risk of hearing loss according to the study.
Done in the United Kingdom, 164,770 people ages 40 to 69 years old wear given hearing tests from the years 2007 to 2010.
"Given around 20 percent of the U.K. population smoke, and up to 60 percent in some countries, smoking may represent a significant cause of hearing loss worldwide,” said Dr. Piers Dawes, of the Center for Human Communication and Deafness at The University of Manchester.
Hearing loss affects about 17 in 1,000 children according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Then, about 314 in 1,000 people over age 65 have some form of hearing loss.
"Hearing loss is often viewed as an inevitable consequence of aging, but as the research published today shows, this may not always be the case,” said Dr. Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss. “Giving up smoking and protecting your ears from loud noise are two practical steps people can take today to prevent hearing loss later in life."
"We found the more packets you smoke per week and the longer you smoke, the greater the risk you will damage your hearing,” Dawes said.
How smoking actually changes patients’ hearing abilities is still not known, but Dawes did put forth some conjecture on the topic.
"We are not sure if toxins in tobacco smoke affect hearing directly, or whether smoking-related cardiovascular disease causes microvascular changes that impact on hearing, or both,” said Dawes.
Hearing loss affects about 38 million people in the United States according to the Center for Hearing and Communication.