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Jun 06, 2014 12:02 PM EDT

Smokers May Be More Likely To Suffer From Hearing Loss

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People who smoke tobacco or are frequently exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to suffer from hearing loss, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Manchester University in the United Kingdom found that current smokers have a 15.1 percent increased risk of hearing loss than non-smokers. Passive smoking increased the likelihood of hearing loss by 28 percent.

Researchers said the increased risk among passive smokers -- higher than that for smokers -- could be because smokers were compared to both complete non-smokers and passive non-smokers but passive smokers were only compared to non-smokers.

"Given around 20 [percent] of the [United Kingdom] population smoke and up to 60 [percent] in some countries, smoking may represent a significant cause of hearing loss worldwide," Dr. Piers Dawes, leader of the study, said in a statement. "We found the more packets you smoke per week and the longer you smoke, the greater the risk you will damage your hearing."

For the study, researchers looked at more than 164,000 adults in the United Kingdom aged 40 to 69 years of age who took hearing tests between 2007 and 2010 when they joined UK Biobank, a national project to improve health.

Researchers said the link between smoking and hearing loss is still unclear but many smokers also often had heart disease.

"We are not sure if toxins in tobacco smoke affect hearing directly, or whether smoking-related cardiovascular disease causes microvascular changes that impact on hearing, or both," Dawes said.

According to Dr. Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss, hearing loss affects 10 million people in the United Kingdom alone and with an aging population is set to become a major public health issue.

"Hearing loss is often viewed as an inevitable consequence of aging, but as the research published today shows, this may not always be the case. Giving up smoking and protecting your ears from loud noise are two practical steps people can take today to prevent hearing loss later in life," Holme said.

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