The smoking gun: How cigarette smoke affects your eyes and ears

man playing a guitar

Smoking can impact how well you see and hear

Here’s a hazy side effect of smoking everyone should see clearly: It could diminish your ability to see — and hear — life to the fullest. Fortunately, both also can be remedied with routine exams. Smokers are 70% more likely than nonsmokers to develop hearing loss, research shows.1 Additionally those who smoke are at least twice as likely to develop conditions that lead to vision loss.2

And when we lose hearing or vision, connections to other health conditions become apparent, too: Those who suffer hearing and/or vision loss, for example, are at higher risk of suffering from depression and injury-causing falls.3

A vision or hearing exam can detect smoking-related illness

Here’s how regular eye and hearing exams can detect smoking-related conditions, and other health issues.

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): Smokers are at a 3-fold risk of developing AMD, a condition the diminishes central vision and the ability to see fine details.4 This can happen in a couple of ways: The toxins in cigarette smoke travel through the blood stream and can damage the retina, the light-sensitive layer behind the eye.5 Further, smoking causes blood vessels to narrow, contributing to higher blood pressure. Quitting smoking at any time can reduce those risks.6

Cataracts: Smokers are 2 times as likely to develop cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s internal lens, and a leading cause of blindness; the more someone smokes, the higher the chances for cataracts and the earlier in life they are likely to develop.5

High-frequency hearing loss: Smoking causes inflammation that could impede blood flow to the cochlea, part of the inner ear critical to hearing.3 In time, this will make it harder to hear high-pitched sounds, including children and birds, and some consonants such as “s” or “h.”7 Further, nicotine and its toxins, including formaldehyde, arsenic, ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide, may harm the inner ear.8

Cardiovascular disease: Hearing loss could indicate the presence of cardiovascular disease in its early, more treatable stages. This is because smoking can lead to blocked arteries and veins, reducing blood flow that could affect the tiny hairs within the cochlea that are responsible for sending sound signals to the brain.3

Smoking can contribute to several other ear — and eye-related conditions, including dry eyes, damage to the optic nerve that connects the eyes to the brain and diabetes, the latter of which can damage blood vessels in the retina and cause vision loss.4

A smoker may not detect such conditions because the symptoms and changes can be incremental. For this reason, it’s important that they are able to count on the frank input of friends, co-workers and loved ones.

Better sight, hearing, health

The single most reliable way to detect vision or hearing loss is through a comprehensive exam with a specialized doctor. That’s why in addition to connecting members to a nationwide network of independent eye doctors, top optical retailers and online options, EyeMed offers members savings on hearing health products and services through Amplifon Hearing Health Care. Make a point of scheduling these appointments together each year for better sensory health and happiness.

1. “Sound advice: Treat your hearing as a ‘hub’ for overall health”; Amplifon Hearing Health Care, April 1, 2022.

2. “Vision Loss, Blindness, and Smoking”; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 8, 2022.

3. “Effect of cigarette smoking on sensorineural hearing impairment and age related macular degeneration”; National Library of Medicine, August 2, 2021.

4. “How smoking harms your eyes”; by Aimee Rodrigues; AllAboutVision, February 2022.

5. “Smoking and Age-Related Macular Degeneration”; by Joshua Dunaief, MD, PhD; BrightFocus Foundation, August 5, 2021.

6. “Smoking”; Macular Society, 2022.

7. “Understanding high-frequency hearing loss”; by Debbie Clason and Joy Victory; Healthy Hearing, July 29, 2020.

8. “A Disturbing List of Toxic Chemicals in Cigarettes”; by Terry Martin; VeryWellMind, July 1, 2021.