A Link between Drinking and Hearing Loss

In hearing, hearing loss, Preventative Care by Ed Kocher, ACA, BC-HIS

Ed Kocher, ACA, BC-HIS

Hearing loss affects over 37 million Americans, impacting everyone from grandparents to teens. While many people acknowledge the common causes of hearing loss such as age-related hearing loss, or hearing loss from exposure to dangerously loud sounds like noisy construction sites or rock concerts, few are aware of the other causes of hearing loss. There are less obvious things that can lead to hearing loss, such as smoking, lack of exercise, illness, injury, or even certain medications. Did you know there’s even a link between drinking and hearing loss?

It’s All in Your Brain

How are hearing loss and drinking linked? Excessive drinking does more than damage your liver. It has far-reaching effects on your health, such as increasing your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Alcohol consumption can also damage the brain. The auditory nerve which carries signals from the ear to the brain is at risk of cell damage or death. Even though there may be nothing wrong with your ear, and the cells in the inner ear are hearing all the sounds around you, your brain just isn’t able to process these signals.

Your central auditory cortex, the area of the brain responsible for processing and interpreting sounds, often experiences cell death due to alcohol consumption. This means your brain can no longer process sounds effectively. A study conducted at the University of Ulm in Germany found that heavy drinking leads to damage in the auditory cortex, and this effects processing times. Even though you’re hearing the people speaking to you, you might have a hard time understanding what’s being said if they speak quickly, or if there are too many distracting background sounds.

Alcohol and Your Ears

Unfortunately, damage from heavy drinking is far reaching, and goes beyond damage in the brain. Drinking damages your ears as well, creating a toxic environment within the inner ear. Excessive alcohol consumption leads to damage of the hair cells, cells in the inner ear that translate sound waves hitting your ear into electrical signals that can be transmitted to the brain. Once these cells die, they do not regenerate, so hearing loss of this kind is permanent.

Ears Do More than Hear

It’s not new news that heavy drinking can make you feel dizzy or disoriented. Walking a straight line is a common test for sobriety, since intoxicated people cannot keep their balance. Did you know that this is actually because of your ears? Excessive drinking disrupts the fluid in your inner ears that helps you maintain poise and balance. In fact, the Vestibular Disorders Association says that alcohol actually changes the make-up and amount of fluid in the ear, causing the classic symptoms of dizziness.

It all seems like harmless fun and games during a night out, but tampering with the fluids in the inner ear can cause serious side effects such as vertigo, “the spins”, and a lack of spatial awareness. Having that one last drink can be the final straw, bringing on temporary hearing loss or tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing in the ears, indicative of more problems to come.

Everything in Moderation

We’re not trying to ruin your fun, or tell you that you can’t enjoy a drink with friends at the bar. However, if you’re overindulging, keep in mind that it’s not just your liver that you’ll have to be worried about. Wondering how much alcohol is a safe amount? Use your common sense, and don’t get carried away. According to a National Institutes of Health publication in 2011, a light drinker consumed between 1 and 13 drinks in a month. At these levels, your ears are sure to be safe. Set an example for your family and friends, safeguarding your hearing, and encouraging your loved ones to do the same.

If you think you have hearing loss, or are worried about how your habits are affecting your health, visit us at Advanced Tech Hearing. Our team of hearing specialists will provide a hearing assessment to determine your level of hearing loss, and work with you to find a treatment solution and a device that suits your needs. We’ll also help you find ways to change this or any other habit you have that may be affecting your overall health and your hearing health.