While medical researchers must often focus on one system in the body when conducting a study, the additive effect of that research always seems to point to a few lifestyle recommendations that improve health overall. Importantly, hearing ability emerges as something like the “canary in the coalmine” of the body’s systems—the things that harm our hearing tend to harm everything else, too, but hearing loss is often the first consequence to ensue.
Most of us are familiar with the most important—and frequently suggested—aspects of a healthy lifestyle:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption
- Don’t smoke tobacco
- Avoid chronic stress
- Get enough sleep
Each of these suggestions comes up so frequently for a very good reason: They are the things that healthy, modern people do! The correlations between these positive lifestyle choices and good overall health are undeniable throughout the medical literature.
Today we’ll talk about smoking, blood pressure, and hearing loss. Smoking and high blood pressure are strongly correlated with hearing loss. Let’s explore why that’s the case.
Smoking and Hearing Loss
Smoking reduces the level of oxygen in your blood. When you think about your blood vessels, you can imagine different gauges of pipe, like those used in a municipal water system. Big pipes bring lots of water to a neighborhood, smaller pipes carry the water to individual households, and even smaller pipes feed the different fixtures within a single house.
As a faucet is to a municipal water system, so are our ears to the body’s cardiovascular system. A small piece of debris will not stop water from flowing to a whole neighborhood, or even a house, but a few pieces of debris can easily slow or stop the faucet at the kitchen sink!
When you smoke, your blood is picking up a few things that it shouldn’t have—like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, arsenic, benzene, and formaldehyde, just to name a few. While these chemicals do their own nasty work throughout the body, they also squeeze out oxygen from the bloodstream.
The tiny blood vessels inside your ears, which feed the delicate structures in your inner ear, need plenty of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. Adding in these harmful chemicals, while reducing the amount of nutrients, creates an imbalance that is hard for those tiny structures to survive.
Blood Pressure and Hearing Loss
When your doctor takes a measurement of your blood pressure, they document it as two numbers. The first, or “top,” number measures the pressure at the moment that your heart is actively pushing blood into your arteries. The second, or “under,” number measures the pressure between those moments, when blood flow is ebbing. Essentially, this gives a measure of how hard your heart has to work in order to make blood flow through your body.
High blood pressure makes it more difficult for your heart to move blood through your body effectively. This can happen for a number of reasons. It may be that fatty plaques have built up along the walls of your blood vessels, creating less space for blood to move through easily. To return to the municipal water system, this would be like having an old service line that had a lot of mineral build-up, increasing pressure and limiting the amount of water that can reach the home.
Another cause of high blood pressure is the constriction or hardening of the arteries (hypertension). Nicotine, from smoking, constricts the arteries while it is in the bloodstream, temporarily increasing blood pressure. But it also promotes hypertension, over time, creating a more permanent state of high blood pressure. Again, to put this in terms of the municipal water system, it would be like replacing a main line with a service line. The smaller pipe would make the pressure increase, while also limiting the amount of water that can be used in the home.
Quit Smoking and Lower Blood Pressure for Better Health and Hearing!
To avoid the build-up of fatty plaques, choose to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Quitting smoking is also essential in order to avoid negative outcomes for the cardiovascular system.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol intake, not smoking, taking steps to avoid chronic stress, and getting the right amount of sleep (7–9 hours per night) are all important to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system, and, consequently, healthy hearing!