How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Christa N. Smith, Au.D., CCC-A

Christa N. Smith, Au.D., CCC-A
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Our lifestyle choices unquestionably influence hearing loss. Hearing loss rates are closely tied to how often one uses hearing protection and avoids loud exposure. 

But there are also several indirect causes of hearing loss that may surprise you. Hearing loss has been linked to health issues such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Although the exact reason is unknown, we know that people with hearing loss have a higher rate of these health problems than those who do not. As a result, many studies believe there is a link between good habits like eating and exercise and reduced risks of hearing loss. 

With so much uncertainty in the science of hearing loss prevention, we want to know for sure which factors are more likely to cause or exacerbate hearing loss. Let’s look at two lifestyle activities that could also affect our hearing loss levels: smoking and drinking.

Hearing loss and smoking

When it comes to hearing loss and smoking, the link is undeniable. Smokers have a substantially higher rate of hearing loss than non-smokers. One study found that smokers have a 70 percent increased chance of hearing loss, a startling and powerful statistic. 

Some have questioned the validity of these findings, speculating that a third unexplored component could be at work. For example, if smokers are more likely to be exposed to noise in loud concerts or events, the actual cause would be the noisy events rather than the smoking itself. 

Despite this, there is scientific evidence linking smoking to hearing loss. The inner ear’s microscopic hairlike organelles require oxygen to operate correctly, and smoking may reduce the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream. If that were the case, smoking would cause people to acquire hearing loss as a direct result. We know that smoking causes many harmful health consequences, so this is yet another reason to start a smoking cessation program right away.

Hearing loss and alcohol 

The results are more ambiguous when it comes to alcohol use. 

BAEP levels (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials) levels were linked to both excessive and social drinking, according to a study from the University of Ulm in Germany. They examined the extent of damage to the area of the brain that allows people to hear. The findings revealed a link not only in the brain but also in the ears. They discovered that drinking, like smoking, directly affects the tiny, delicate hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. 

Confusingly, another recent study found that drinking might help prevent hearing loss. A comprehensive study published in the Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology by researchers from the United Kingdom and the United States indicated that not only modest levels of alcohol intake but even higher drinking could help avoid hearing loss. Researchers wondered if there was anything special about those who have never drunk in their lives. This group appeared to be substantially more likely to develop hearing loss than those who had consumed alcohol at some point in their lives. 

Of course, whatever the link between hearing loss and alcohol, we would never advocate drinking alcohol with the express purpose of preventing hearing loss. The health hazards associated with excessive alcohol consumption are serious and should be avoided. 

Stick to the basics

With so much contradicting information concerning the causes and prevention of hearing loss, it’s more crucial than ever to stick to the tried-and-true preventative routines. We know that using hearing protection, such as earplugs, in noisy areas and limiting noise exposure are two of the most effective ways to prevent hearing loss. 

The good news is that if you already suffer hearing loss, there are treatment options available now that are far superior to those offered in the past. You can start your search for hearing aids by booking a hearing test with us today! We’re here to guide you to the resources, information, and expertise you’ll need to reconnect with your loved ones.