How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

The health risks associated with smoking and drinking are widely known: heart disease, kidney disease, lung cancer etc. But did you know that in addition to these medical conditions, smoking and drinking can contribute to the development of hearing loss? More and more studies show that smoking and drinking also has an adverse impact on hearing health. To further understand the link, we’ll highlight a few recent studies as well as explore ways you can protect your hearing health!

Linking Smoking, Drinking, & Hearing Health

Various studies have investigated the relationship between smoking, drinking, and increased risk of hearing loss. Two critical studies that illuminate this relationship are: 

  1. 2018 Study published in Science Daily, conducted by researchers at Japan’s National Center for Global Health and Medicine
  • Study: researchers analyzed the data from annual health screenings, yearly hearing tests, and questionnaires on smoking behavior over an 8-year period. This study consisted of 50,000 Japanese workers who were ages 20 to 64. They included smokers, nonsmokers, and former smokers who did not have hearing loss at the beginning of the study. 
  • Findings: During the study, 5,100 participants developed hearing loss and after examining data, researchers found that compared to the nonsmokers, smokers were:  
    • 60% more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss 
    • 20% more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss 

In studying the amount of smoking, researchers found that the quantity of cigarettes smoked per day increased the risk of hearing loss. 

  1. 2019 Study published in the Journal of Audiology & Otology, conducted by researchers at the Disease Control Headquarters in South Korea 
  • Study: to investigate the relationship between hearing loss and alcohol consumption, researchers examined data collected by the Korean National Health and Nutrition Survey. The survey included the responses from 3,860 participants (ages 20 and older) to a drinking questionnaire that identified drinking habits as appropriate, risky, and hazardous. Data also consisted of results from hearing tests. 
  • Findings: Researchers found that people who self-reported their drinking habits as hazardous, were 2.5 times more likely to have hearing loss compared to those who reported their drinking as appropriate. 

In addition to establishing the link between smoking, drinking, and hearing impairment; it is important to understand how exactly these habits impact hearing health. 

Impact of Smoking & Drinking on Hearing

Our auditory system, or the way we hear, requires: healthy blood flow and circulation, healthy blood vessels, cells and bones. These are integral parts of how we are able to absorb and process sound. They can also be damaged by the ingredients contained in cigarettes and alcohol. 

  • Smoking: among the ingredients in cigarettes are nicotine and carbon monoxide. These dangerous chemicals can contribute to hearing loss by: 
    • decreasing oxygen levels and restricting blood vessels throughout the body, including in the inner ear. These blood vessels help maintain the health of hair cells which help the brain convert and process soundwaves.
    • obstruct the neurotransmitters in the nerve pathways that are in the inner ear. This disruption prevents electrical signals from being carried to the brain, making it more challenging (or preventing) for the brain to process incoming sound. 
  • Alcohol: 
    • Alcohol can have adverse effects on the auditory cortex. This area of the brain is where sound is processed and assigned meaning (allowing us to understand what we hear). Significant consumption of alcohol can shrink the auditory cortex, reducing its capacity to be effective in processing sound.
    • Excessive amounts of alcohol can damage the hair cells in the inner ear. There are thousands of hair cells in each ear which help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to process. These hair cells do not regenerate so any damage results in permanent hearing loss. 

Protecting Hearing Health

There are various ways that you can protect your hearing health including: 

  • Reduce your intake of alcohol and nicotine which reduces your risk
  • Take listening breaks which allows your ears to rest from constantly absorbing sound
  • Have your hearing tested so that you are aware of your hearing ability in both ears. Hearing tests identify any impairment and inform effective treatment options.  

An annual hearing test is a great addition to an annual health care regimen. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test to ensure that you’re hearing at your best. 

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing in Vancouver WA and surrounding areas

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