Today, around 40 million American adults smoke cigarettes and more than 16 million of them live with a smoking-related disease such as cancer, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. The health risks that come with smoking are vast and well known. But few people know the damage smoking can cause to your hearing.

Studies have shown that smokers are 70% more likely to develop some form of hearing loss than non-smokers. Even if you aren’t a regular smoker, living with one and regular exposure to their secondhand smoke makes you twice as likely to develop hearing loss as those who aren’t regularly exposed. Add significant noise exposure and chances worsen even more: smokers who work in noisy environments like factories are four times more likely to develop hearing loss than their non-smoking co-workers.

So how exactly does smoking damage your hearing?

Smoking and Hearing Loss

Cigarettes contain a variety of unhealthy chemicals that can have detrimental effects on many parts of your body, including your ears. When one smokes, the nicotine and carbon monoxide constrict blood vessels and deplete oxygen levels in the ears. This asphyxiation can damage the small hairs in the cochlea responsible for translating sound vibrations into electrical impulses for the brain. Nicotine can also cause tinnitus, dizziness and vertigo, all which can interfere with normal ear function.

Smoking has other negative side effects that can interfere with normal hearing function. It irritates the lining of the ear and can also make you more sensitive to loud noises. This, in turn, makes you more susceptible to developing noise-induced hearing loss.

If you or a loved one is experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to see a professional for a hearing test and to discuss treatment options. Treating hearing loss early can help improve your hearing and prevent long-term damage to your ears.