Ototoxicity and Cigarettes
There has always been a historic link between hearing health and cigarettes. Cigarettes have notoriously constricted blood flow and especially affect the flow of oxygen to the inner ear area, where sound waves are translated into neural signals that are sent to the brain to be processed as sound. There have been suggested links to hearing loss as a result.
In recent years, there has been a potential link identified between electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and ototoxicity, a poisoning of the ear, which may cause hearing loss.
Recent Rise of Hearing Loss in Young People
According to a January 2016 op-ed by Dave Fabry, vice president of Starkey Hearing Technologies, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that as many as 2.4 million teens use electronic cigarettes, and that 70% of middle and high school students have been exposed to e-cig advertising. There’s renewed attention to the potential health risks of e-cigs, but overlooked is the danger to the hearing of young people. A study published last June confirmed damage to adolescents’ inner ear.”
In addition to the potential risks of e-cigarettes, young people are at risk of hearing loss in a greater percentage than their counterparts in previous generations. With the ubiquity of personal electronic devices and earbuds, young people are being exposed regularly to dangerous levels of noise.
It seems like electronic cigarettes should be included in this category. “Unlike regular cigarettes,” writes Fabry, “which have a fairly consistent concentration of nicotine, many electronic cigarettes rely on refillable tanks that contain liquid laced with different flavors and different nicotine levels that the user can customize.”
Australian Musician Rob Swire Raises Awareness
Rob Swire, in a series of social media announcements, denounced e-cigarettes and their ototoxicity leading to his case of hearing loss. Swire’s hearing was restored, he reports, but he discusses the dangerous effects of the chemical propylene glycol, used in vaping juices.
The Chemical Make-Up of E-Cigarettes
Proplyene glycol is known as an ototoxic agent. Dr. Bharti Katbamna, who studies the effects of smoking on the auditory system, says that “there is no direct evidence that PG may be hazardous to the auditory system, there is plenty of indirect evidence that may in fact produce damage to the inner ear.”
The Hearing Review reports that “published studies have found that eardrops (antibiotic drops, swimmer’s eardrops, etc.) contain high concentrations of PG or other alcohol-based solvents that should be avoided or used with caution due to the damage they can cause to the ear, particularly if there is a perforation in the eardrum, or tympanic membrane.”
If this is the case, then perhaps the PG found in vaping and e-cigarettes may be linked to hearing loss. Hearing specialists have reminded us of the ototoxic effects of nicotine cigarettes and that the effects of smoking are potentially linked to sensorineural hearing loss.
While studies continue to gather new data on the claim on e-cigarettes, one thing is certain: the World Health Organization has recommended that “e-cigarettes be banned indoors because they em it chemicals potentially as dangerous as cigarettes and have a potential passive smoking risk.”
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