How Air Pollution Can Contribute to Hearing Loss

Grandfather Carving As Multi Generation Family Sit Around Table

Everyone knows that loud noise can damage your hearing, however this isn’t the only risk to our ears we have to navigate in our daily lives. It’s important to understand other risks to hearing loss as well, in order to avoid some of the devastating consequences. Hearing loss is a permanent condition which not only affects our ability to follow conversations and respond appropriately. Unaddressed hearing loss has been linked to higher rates of depression, social isolation, loneliness, cognitive decline, dementia and even to higher rates of falls and accidents. Other causes of hearing loss include impact to the head, ear infections and certain medications. However, one factor which can be difficult to control is our exposure to air pollution!

Understanding the risk of air pollution 

Many people are surprised to find out that air quality is one of the driving factors for healthy hearing. Air pollution is contamination of our environment by any chemical, physical or biological agent which changes the characteristics of the atmosphere. While many sources of air pollution are natural such as from volcanic combustion or forest fires, it’s hard to say if these are not somehow becoming more frequent due to human industry. A larger threat to the quality of our air is caused by human causes including household combustion devices, motor vehicles and industrial facilities. While there have been efforts and public pressure in the United States to improve air quality, “the “State of the Air” 2023 report finds that… nearly 36% of Americans—119.6 million people—still live in places with failing grades for unhealthy levels of ozone or particulate pollution.” Air pollution can affect the health of our lungs and is often connected to higher rates of emphysema, asthma, and other respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Another serious risk is hearing loss!

Air pollution study finds a link to hearing loss

To better understand the impact of poor air quality on our hearing, a 2020 Taiwanese study featured in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health collected data from 74 ambient air quality monitoring stations around Taiwan,  and compared it to rates of health records concerning hearing loss. The researchers measured for higher rates of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide in the air to classify areas as having high, moderate, or low levels of air pollution. Then based upon a 20-year national health survey which included hearing health data from 75,500 people they looked for overlaps in air pollution. 

What they discovered was a direct correlation between higher rates of hearing loss and air pollution. In areas classified as having high rates of carbon monoxide and or nitrogen dioxide, they found higher rates and more extreme cases of hearing loss as well. In areas with lower air pollution there was a corresponding less severe and lower rates of hearing loss! From this data the researchers established that hearing loss was 1.63 times more common in those exposed to high nitrogen dioxide air pollution levels than in people exposed to moderate pollution levels. Meanwhile, areas with higher rates of carbon monoxide in the air had a 1.45 higher chance of hearing loss!

How does air pollution affect hearing loss?

When we are exposed to some chemicals, they can damage the tiny hair-like cells of our inner ear. These cells are the sole delivery method of sound from our inner ear to our brain and as they become damaged or destroyed, they limit the amount of sound our brain can receive, causing permanent hearing loss. This class of chemicals are called ototoxic, and they can include some medications and some industrial chemicals such as solvents. Nitrogen dioxide comes from vehicles, power plants, industrial emissions, and off-road sources such as construction, lawn and gardening equipment or anything which burns fossil fuels. Meanwhile carbon monoxide occurs from burning anything from fossil fuels to forest fires. Both are classified as ototoxic as they deprive oxygenated blood from reaching the cells of our inner ear.

Taking action around healthy hearing

It can be hard to limit the amount of air pollution in your life. You can invest in a high-quality air purifier inside. However, if you know for sure that rates of air pollution are higher where you live, then it’s time to take the risk of hearing loss seriously. Contact us today to set up a hearing evaluation. We can test your hearing and find the best solution for you.