How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D. Uncategorized

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.
Latest posts by Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D. (see all)

Smoking and drinking are two activities that come accompanied by a long list of health risks – did you know that hearing loss is one of them? Both smoking and drinking can contribute to bodily changes that can take a toll on your hearing, albeit in different ways. Reducing or eliminating smoke and drink from your daily life can help protect your hearing as well as carrying a wide range of other health benefits.

Smoking and Hearing Loss

Smoking has been linked to a multitude of health risks and is known to be a factor in 20% of all deaths in the United States. Daily smoking as well as regular exposure to secondhand smoke contribute to elevated risk of lung, throat and other cancers, cardiac issues, low fertility, poor bone health, strokes, and a less resilient immune system among other risks. 

Hearing loss is a less-recognized but still-present risk of smoking. Studies have shown connections between smoking, secondhand smoke and a raised incidence of hearing loss. Research has also been done into degrees of risk – those who smoke more are at much greater risk for hearing loss. Looking at high and low frequency hearing loss, smokers with an intake of ten cigarettes or less were 40% more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss and 10% more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss compared to non-smokers. Those statistics climbed dramatically for heavy smokers. When twenty or more cigarettes are consumed each day, smokers face a risk of high frequency hearing loss elevated by 70% and of low frequency hearing loss elevated by 40%. 

All the links between smoking and hearing loss are still being established. It is widely thought that constricted circulation caused by cigarettes may damage tiny blood vessels in the inner ear and deprive sensory cells of needed nutrients, essentially starving your hearing. Heart disease and circulatory issues caused by smoking can damage hearing in the same way, so it is also likely that other smoking-related health problems can be contributing factors to hearing loss. 

Drinking and Hearing Loss

While research has not shown a significant link between mild and moderate alcohol consumption and hearing loss, there is a clear and established link between heavy and excessive alcohol consumption and significant hearing issues. Like smoking, heavy drinking is also linked to multiple major health risks, especially over the long term. Cancer of the liver, colon, breast and throat are all linked to prolonged heavy alcohol consumption as well as heart disease, liver disease, digestive disruption, high blood pressure and stroke. 

One way heavy drinking can affect your hearing is rooted in gradual changes heavy alcohol use 

catalyzes in the brain. Heavy drinking is linked to atrophy in the auditory cortex of the brain and damage to the auditory nerve cells used to transmit and interpret sound signals from the ear. This means that unlike much hearing loss which is rooted in irreversible damage to the ear’s sensory cells, heavy drinkers may experience hearing loss where their ears are functioning normally but their brain cannot process sound correctly.

Other findings have shown that elevated amounts of alcohol can create an “ototoxic” environment in the body that can damage the fine sensory cells of the inner ear. The sensory cells of the inner ear are delicate structures that we rely upon to detect the vibrations of sound waves in the air. When these cells are damaged, the injury is permanent – they cannot repair themselves or grow a replacement, and thus an injured cell creates a gap in our ability to hear. Loud noises can damage hair cells, as can infections and some medications known as “ototoxic medications”. Some ototoxic drugs can work much like the ototoxicity of a high blood alcohol percentage, creating an environment that is too chemically hostile for the vulnerable sensory cells. 

Improve Your Health, Diminish Hearing Risk

While drastically affecting your health, both smoking and drinking can be addictive behaviors making them hard to quit. Fortunately, resources exist to help you if you are seeking to quit either behavior. A good first step is connecting with your primary care provider who can help you access local support networks as well as medication that can help mitigate and manage addiction. Quitting can be daunting, but it is never too late to change your habits and improve your health.

Treating Hearing Loss

Have you experienced changes in your hearing? Is it a challenge to hear people over background noise? We’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule a comprehensive hearing test and reconnect to the sounds you’ve been missing.