How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

Kevin Garnett, B.S. Hearing Health, Hearing Loss

Kevin Garnett, B.S.

Smoking and drinking can impact health in a variety of ways. Common risks associated with both activities are widely known. But one risk that is not as recognized is the relationship between smoking, drinking, and the development of hearing loss. Increasing research highlights that smoking and drinking can affect hearing health. In addition to being aware of this link, it is important to know how you can protect your hearing and overall health! 

Link Between Smoking, Drinking, & Hearing Loss

Recent studies have investigated the link between smoking, drinking, and hearing loss. Two major studies include: 

    • Study: researchers explored the relationship between alcohol consumption and hearing loss by analyzing data from a national survey. The survey included 3,860 participants (ages 20 and older) who completed a questionnaire about drinking habits. Respondents identified their drinking behavior as appropriate, risky, or hazardous. Additionally, data included results from hearing tests conducted on participants. 
    • Findings: people who self-reported their drinking habits as hazardous, were 2.5 times more likely to have hearing loss than participants who identified their drinking as appropriate. 
  • 2018: Published in Science Daily, study conducted by researchers at Japan’s National Center for Global Health and Medicine
    • Study: researchers investigated the link between smoking and hearing loss by examining data from annual health screenings, hearing tests, and responses to a questionnaire that identified smoking behavior. This data spanned an 8-year period and included 50,000 people – ages 20 to 64. Participants included smokers, nonsmokers, and former smokers; participants did not have hearing loss at the onset of the study. 
    • Findings: 5,100 participants developed hearing loss during the study. Researchers found that compared to the participants who were nonsmokers, smokers were:  
      • 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss 
      • 20% more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss  – After further analyzing the data, researchers also found that the number of cigarettes smoked per day increased the risk of hearing loss.

These studies reveal a correlation between smoking as well as drinking and the development of hearing loss. Both behaviors can adversely impact hearing health and lead to permanent damage. 

Impact of Smoking & Drinking on Hearing Health

Smoking and drinking can impact hearing health in a variety of ways. The auditory system includes the outer, middle, and inner ear which absorbs and processes incoming soundwaves. These soundwaves are converted to electrical signals that are then sent to the brain where meaning is assigned; enabling us to understand what we hear. This process and these components require healthy blood and oxygen flow which support the blood vessels, cells, and bones that participate in how we hear. This can be disrupted or damaged by the ingredients contained in cigarettes and alcohol. 

  • Smoking: ingredients in cigarettes include nicotine and carbon monoxide. These hazardous chemicals can damage hearing by: 
    • Reducing oxygen levels and constricting blood vessels in the inner ear. 
    • Disrupting the neurotransmitters in the auditory pathways that carry electrical signals to the brain to be processed. 
  • Alcohol: 
    • Can affect the auditory cortex in the brain which is where sound is processed. Excess amounts of alcohol can shrink the auditory cortex, affecting its ability to effectively process incoming sound information.
    • The hair cells in the inner ear can also be damaged by a high intake of alcohol. These hair cells do not regenerate so any damage is permanent, resulting in hearing loss. 

Being aware of these risks, it is incredibly important to prioritize hearing health care and practice ways to protect and enhance health. 

Tips to Protect Hearing

There are various ways that you can protect your hearing health and reduce the risk of developing hearing loss. A few useful tips include the following: 

  • Eliminate or reduce consumption of alcohol and cigarettes.  
  • Reduce your exposure to loud noise by taking listening breaks, maintaining lower volume levels on electronic devices, avoiding noisy settings, wearing protective gear (headphones, earplugs etc.). 
  • Have your hearing tested regularly (annually) which identifies any impairment and effective solutions to transform your hearing health.   

If you have experienced changes in your hearing and are concerned about hearing loss, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.