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The Ultimate Tinnitus Treatment Guide

The Facts About Smoking, Vaping And How It Affects Tinnitus

Facts About Smoking And Tinnitus

By Doug Morris

Scientists have found conclusive evidence that smoking and vaping can cause, trigger or worsen tinnitus. Discover the link between nicotine and the ringing in your ears.

It’s a well-known fact that smoking can lead to problems with your lungs and throat.

In fact, studies world-wide show that cigarette smoke is the cause of 90% of all lung cancer deaths.

But many people aren’t aware of the connection between smoking and tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a serious and often debilitating condition.

But it is always linked to an underlying cause – ranging from problems such as hearing loss, diseases, physical trauma and other issues.

In many cases, when you take care of the root cause, your tinnitus will improve and lessen in severity.

But to really take control of your tinnitus and come up with a cure, there are many facets you need to look at and take action on.

And one of those might be how your smoking and nicotine intake are affecting the ringing in your ears.

Does Smoking Actually Affect Tinnitus?

Cigarette stack

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Multiple studies on tinnitus causes, triggers and risk factors have shown that smoking directly or indirectly has a significant impact on hearing health.

One study observed that smokers were 60% more likely to develop a high-frequency hearing loss when compared with people who did not smoke.

And those exposed to second-hand smoke also have an increased risk for hearing-related issues.

You’re twice as likely to develop tinnitus if you live with someone who is a frequent smoker than if you don’t.

However, like most tinnitus-related things, it varies from case to case.

Some people who report that their tinnitus is caused by hearing loss find that smoking or not smoking does not have any effect whatsoever on their tinnitus.

Others, who also report that their tinnitus is caused by hearing loss, say that smoking definitely makes it worse and more noticeable.

And there are others who say that at first the nicotine withdrawal itself makes their tinnitus more noticeable.

The same is true for caffeine, salt, sugar and alcohol intake.

Some people are okay with it and others find that cutting it out is the only way to get tinnitus relief.

In fact, like alcohol, years of smoking have led some patients to complete hearing loss.

How Does Smoking And Nicotine Affect Tinnitus?

Nicotine chemicals

Nicotine is a highly toxic alkaloid. An alkaloid is a type of chemical that is found in some plants.

The plants that have this chemical are often turned into strong prescription medications, intense drugs or sometimes poisons.

Cotinine is an alkaloid found in tobacco and is the main thing your body breaks down when you have nicotine.

Doctors measure cotinine in urine as a biomarker to observe if their patients are exposing themselves to nicotine or not.

Long-term exposure to nicotine will even show cotinine in your blood, saliva, nails and hair.

Studies of adolescents and college-age students who suffer from tinnitus had high levels of cotinine due to smoking in their urine.

Their results confirmed how closely related smoking and tinnitus are linked – no matter your age.

There is also a significant relationship between tinnitus, smoking and high blood pressure.

From a scientific standpoint, researchers have found conclusive evidence that nicotine found in tobacco products affects your tinnitus in several ways:

  • Smoking, chewing, or vaping increases narrows blood vessels and increases blood pressure.
  • The decrease in oxygen levels that reach your ears aggravates tinnitus symptoms.
  • Nicotine irritates your middle ear lining and Eustachian tube.
  • The nicotine acts as a stimulant making the ringing in your ears sound louder.
  • Nicotine disrupts the neurotransmitters in your auditory nerve.
  • Smoking damages cells, turns them into free radicals that can damage your DNA and cause various diseases.

The fact of the matter is, tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals.

And in there, at least 70 of those are known to cause cancer in humans.

Here are a few of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke:

  • Nicotine
  • Beryllium
  • Formaldehyde
  • Benzene
  • Nickel
  • Cadmium
  • Arsenic
  • Vinyl chloride
  • Lead
  • Chromium
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrosamines
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
  • Cobalt
  • Hydrogen cyanide

The nicotine and carbon monoxide are going to deplete the body’s oxygen levels and also play a role in constricting blood vessels that are present throughout the body.

These include the blood vessels in the inner ear that play a role in maintaining good hair cell health.

Nicotine on its own interferes with neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve.

These neurotransmitters tell the brain the sounds that are being interpreted.

Over time, the damage to the neurotransmitters can be severe and irreversible.

There are a few ways that nicotine and smoking cause or worsen that ringing in your ears.

First, nicotine narrows your blood vessels and increases your blood pressure. No matter if you’re smoking it, chewing it or vaping it.

Second, nicotine irritates your middle ear lining and Eustachian tube, which triggers tinnitus or makes it worse.

Third, you decrease the oxygen levels that reach your ear, which is bad news for tinnitus.

Another issue is that because nicotine is a stimulant, it can be making the ringing in your ears sound louder.

Does Vaping Have The Same Effect As Smoking On Tinnitus?

Vapes

Although vaping is often considered to be less serious than smoking, there is some initial evidence to suggest that it also plays a role in tinnitus.

First of all, let’s look at what vaping is and how it works.

E-cigarettes were invented in 2003. They’ve since gained traction with the numbers rising from 7 million users worldwide in 2011 to over 40 million in 2018.

Instead of smoke, a user inhales “vape” from tiny aerosol droplets that are activated from the liquid solution you place in the e-cigarette.

The heat from the electronic device causes the liquid to turn into the vapor that you inhale.

On the surface, it seems safer since you’re not inhaling smoke.

And in most cases, it is a better option.

There are fewer chemicals than in cigarettes, usually in lower doses, but there are also some chemicals in vapes that are not in cigarettes.

Because vaping is so new, there haven’t been very many studies yet that look at the connection between vaping and tinnitus, but so far it appears that vaping carries similar risks to smoking.

Depending on the chemicals that are used in the flavoring of the vape juice, it may even be more harmful.

Keep in mind that nicotine is also contained in vaping.

This substance is one of the reasons why people develop a strong addiction to smoking or vaping.

Since this compound has been implicated in the development of tinnitus, it contributes to this condition.

Additionally, the flavors that are used in vaping are largely unregulated and not usually checked against quality standards.

While each liquid contains different ingredients, some of the chemicals used in vaping have been linked to hearing damage.

One of the main ingredients in e-cigarette liquid is propylene glycol.

It is also found in everyday items from antibiotics, to cosmetics, to some foods like coffee-based drinks and ice cream.

Studies suggest that this chemical can damage your hearing.

This is in addition to the nicotine that is in vaping that is also linked to hearing loss and tinnitus.

Unfortunately, vaping is one of the lesser regulated types of smoking.

There are over 500 brands and thousands of flavors on the market today but very little regulation or safety checks are performed.

How Much Do I Need To Cut Down To See An Improvement?

Question marks chalkboard

The major studies involving tinnitus and smoking show that current smoking, former smoking and even having ever smoked were significantly linked to developing tinnitus.

Your sensitivity to tinnitus and risk for permanent damage is definitely increased the more that you smoke.

And if you are a heavy smoker, chances are you will have a worse case than someone who smokes less or who has quit.

Current smokers are nearly twice as likely as non-smokers to have hearing loss.

A major tinnitus study that followed many participants for 10-years showed that if you currently smoke, you have an increased risk for developing tinnitus.

The good news is, the longer it’s been since you quit, the better your chances of not developing tinnitus and falling in line to the same odds as someone who’s never smoked.

So how much do you need to cut down on smoking to see an improvement in tinnitus?

The answer is, whatever brings you results.

Some tinnitus sufferers report that their tinnitus spikes when they first quit.

Others see an improvement right away.

Still others quit and when their tinnitus gets better they take up smoking or vaping again, but then their tinnitus comes back.

In those cases, they clearly see the correlation between smoking or vaping it how it triggers their tinnitus.

Conclusion

Although there are many reasons to avoid smoking, hearing loss and tinnitus definitely big reasons to cut down or try quitting altogether.

Giving up cigarettes and vaping may help with symptom control and prevent future damage.

You can also try cutting down your caffeine consumption.

Too much salt and even eating sugary foods also affect tinnitus in some cases.

Try cutting out foods that worsen tinnitus or looking over your medications to see if they might be triggering the ringing in your ears.

Another way to help with symptoms is to start an easy workout regimen and avoiding things that are known to make tinnitus worse.

References

Baguley, D., McFerran, D., & Hall, D. (2013). Tinnitus. Lancet (London, England), 382(9904), 1600–1607. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(13)60142-7

Han, B. I., Lee, H. W., Kim, T. Y., Lim, J. S., & Shin, K. S. (2009). Tinnitus: characteristics, causes, mechanisms, and treatments. Journal of clinical neurology (Seoul, Korea), 5(1), 11–19. https://doi.org/10.3988/jcn.2009.5.1.11

Nondahl, D. M., Cruickshanks, K. J., Wiley, T. L., Klein, B. E., Klein, R., Chappell, R., & Tweed, T. S. (2010). The ten-year incidence of tinnitus among older adults. International journal of audiology, 49(8), 580–585. https://doi.org/10.3109/14992021003753508

Shargorodsky, J., Curhan, G. C., & Farwell, W. R. (2010). Prevalence and characteristics of tinnitus among US adults. The American journal of medicine, 123(8), 711–718. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjmed.2010.02.015

Kim, H. J., Lee, H. J., An, S. Y., Sim, S., Park, B., Kim, S. W., Lee, J. S., Hong, S. K., & Choi, H. G. (2015). Analysis of the prevalence and associated risk factors of tinnitus in adults. PloS one, 10(5), e0127578. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0127578

Veile, A., Zimmermann, H., Lorenz, E., & Becher, H. (2018). Is smoking a risk factor for tinnitus? A systematic review, meta-analysis and estimation of the population attributable risk in Germany. BMJ open, 8(2), e016589. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016589

Lee, D. Y., & Kim, Y. H. (2018). Urine Cotinine Should Be Involved in Initial Evaluation of Tinnitus in Adolescents. Clinical and experimental otorhinolaryngology, 11(4), 242–249. https://doi.org/10.21053/ceo.2017.01641

Morizono, T., Paparella, M. M., & Juhn, S. K. (1980). Ototoxicity of propylene glycol in experimental animals. American journal of otolaryngology, 1(5), 393–399. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0196-0709(80)80020-2

Morizono, T., & Johnstone, B. M. (1975). Ototoxicity of chloramphenicol ear drops with propylene glycol as solvent. The Medical journal of Australia, 2(16), 634–638.

Bhatt I. S. (2018). Prevalence of and Risk Factors for Tinnitus and Tinnitus-Related Handicap in a College-Aged Population. Ear and hearing, 39(3), 517–526. https://doi.org/10.1097/AUD.0000000000000503

Hu, H., Sasaki, N., Ogasawara, T., Nagahama, S., Akter, S., Kuwahara, K., Kochi, T., Eguchi, M., Kashino, I., Murakami, T., Shimizu, M., Uehara, A., Yamamoto, M., Nakagawa, T., Honda, T., Yamamoto, S., Hori, A., Nishiura, C., Okazaki, H., Imai, T., … Japan Epidemiology Collaboration on Occupational Health Study Group (2019). Smoking, Smoking Cessation, and the Risk of Hearing Loss: Japan Epidemiology Collaboration on Occupational Health Study. Nicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, 21(4), 481–488. https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/nty026

About the author 

Doug Morris

Doug is a health researcher who has spent over 30 years as a publisher and consultant in the natural health industry. During his retirement, he spends upwards of 10 hours a day sifting through health journals and reading about new and exciting health breakthroughs - especially those regarding potential tinnitus cures. In his free time, Doug enjoys trying new restaurants and hiking with his Golden Retriever.

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