Tobacco, but Neither Cannabis Smoking Nor Co-Drug Use, Is Associated With Hearing Loss in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011 to 2012 and 2015 to 2016

Ear Hear. 2022 Sep-Oct;43(5):1582-1592. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000001219. Epub 2022 Apr 4.


Introduction: A relationship between tobacco smoking and hearing loss has been reported; associations with cannabis smoking are unknown. In this cross-sectional population-based study, we examined relationships between hearing loss and smoking (tobacco, cannabis, or co-drug use).

Methods: We explored the relationship between hearing loss and smoking among 2705 participants [mean age = 39.41 (SE: 0.36) years] in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2011 to 12; 2015 to 16). Smoking status was obtained via questionnaire; four mutually exclusive groups were defined: nonsmokers, current regular cannabis smokers, current regular tobacco smokers, and co-drug users. Hearing sensitivity (0.5 to 8 kHz) was assessed, and two puretone averages (PTAs) computed: low- (PTA 0.5,1,2 ) and high-frequency (PTA 3,4,6,8 ). We defined hearing loss as threshold >15 dB HL. Multivariable logistic regression was used to examine sex-specific associations between smoking and hearing loss in the poorer ear (selected based on PTA 0.5,1,2 ) adjusting for age, sex, race/ethnicity, hypertension, diabetes, education, and noise exposure with sample weights applied.

Results: In the age-sex adjusted model, tobacco smokers had increased odds of low- and high-frequency hearing loss compared with non-smokers [odds ratio (OR) = 1.58, 95% confidence ratio (CI): 1.05 to 2.37 and OR = 1.97, 95% CI: 1.58 to 2.45, respectively]. Co-drug users also had greater odds of low- and high-frequency hearing loss [OR = 2.07, 95% CI: 1.10 to 3.91 and OR = 2.24, 95% CI: 1.27 to 3.96, respectively]. In the fully adjusted multivariable model, compared with non-smokers, tobacco smokers had greater odds of high-frequency hearing loss [multivariable adjusted odds ratio = 1.64, 95% CI: 1.28-2.09]. However, in the fully adjusted model, there were no statistically significant relationships between hearing loss (PTA 0.5,1,2 or PTA 3,4,6,8 ) and cannabis smoking or co-drug use.

Discussion: Cannabis smoking without concomitant tobacco consumption is not associated with hearing loss. However, sole use of cannabis was relatively rare and the prevalence of hearing loss in this population was low, limiting generalizability of the results. This study suggests that tobacco smoking may be a risk factor for hearing loss but does not support an association between hearing loss and cannabis smoking. More definitive evidence could be derived using physiological measures of auditory function in smokers and from longitudinal studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Deafness*
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss, High-Frequency
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Smoking* / epidemiology
  • Nicotiana
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Tobacco Use