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How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

two couples drinking lunchtime cocktails in a well lit room

It’s common knowledge that smoking and drinking alcohol can be bad for your health, but it may affect your well-being in ways you hadn’t considered. While smoking is linked to illnesses, such as lung cancer and emphysema, it can also have an impact on your hearing function. Similarly, excess alcohol consumption is routinely linked to liver damage, but few people realize that alcohol (along with smoking) can impair your hearing function too.

Does smoking or drinking alcohol cause hearing loss?

Smoking has been identified as a risk factor for hearing loss for many years and researchers are now uncovering links between hearing loss and alcohol consumption too. Studies in the U.S. and around the world have regularly confirmed that smokers experience higher rates of hearing loss.

In addition to this, studies into the effects of smoking and hearing loss suggest that the number of cigarettes you smoke or the length of time you’re exposed to smoke can increase the risk of hearing loss even further.

Furthermore, other research has shown that drinking a moderate or large amount of alcohol in a relatively short space of time, sometimes referred to as binge drinking, can increase the risk of hearing loss. It’s also believed that alcohol consumption can impair the auditory cortex within the brain, which could affect how you process sounds.

As a significant amount of data confirming that smoking and drinking alcohol can impact your hearing function, it’s important to factor this in when you’re making lifestyle choices.

How does smoking affect hearing function?

Smoking has an ototoxic effect, which means it causes damage to your ears. When you smoke, your blood tends to be thicker and stickier, which impairs circulation. As blood cannot circulate throughout the body freely, your oxygen levels drop to lower than average. Organs rely on oxygen to function, which means they are impaired when oxygen levels are reduced due to smoking.

The hair cells within the ear are particularly sensitive to a reduction in oxygen, which is why smoking can have such a serious impact on your hearing. Once these hair cells have been damaged, hearing loss is likely to occur.

What about second-hand smoke?

You don’t have to be a smoker to experience hearing loss due to smoking. Being exposed to second-hand smoke can be harmful to your health and put you at risk of numerous smoking-related conditions, including hearing loss. Although you may not smoke yourself, the damage caused by second-hand smoke can have a devastating impact on your hearing and overall health.

How does drinking alcohol impact your hearing?

Alcohol consumption can affect your hearing in a similar way to smoking. Although alcohol thins the blood, rather than making it thicker, it also reduces the amount of oxygen it can transmit throughout your body. As a result, the sensitive hair cells in the ear become deprived of oxygen and are unable to function adequately. Once damage has occurred, it can’t be reversed, which is one of the reasons why consuming alcohol can affect your hearing.

In addition to this, the auditory cortex in the brain can be damaged when you consume alcohol. When the alcohol in your bloodstream reaches your brain, it can damage and even kill the important neurons that reside there. These neurons are responsible for transmitting messages and signals between different parts of the brain and between the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

When these neurons are unable to function or when you have a reduced number of them, they can only transmit a limited number of messages and signals. If the auditory cortex cannot transmit information accurately, it inhibits your ability to perceive and make sense of sounds.

When to see your audiologist

Everyone should have regular hearing function tests carried out by a professional audiologist, regardless of whether they smoke, drink alcohol or are experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss. However, if your lifestyle does put you at an increased risk of hearing loss, it’s particularly important to visit an audiologist on a regular basis.

Hearing function tests are an effective way to determine whether you’re currently experiencing hearing loss and, if so, what type and its severity. It usually takes an audiologist around 20 minutes to carry out a hearing function test, so it doesn’t take long at all. Based on your results, your audiologist can confirm whether you’re experiencing loss and help you to access the right range of treatments and/or symptom management techniques.

To learn more, book an appointment with EarTech Audiology call us at 801-399-9955.