How Drinking & Smoking May Affect Hearing

May 30, 2022
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The impact and symptoms of smoking and drinking are widely known. But did you know that smoking and drinking can contribute to the development of hearing loss? Research shows that hearing loss is an underrecognized potential complication of smoking and drinking. Hearing loss is one of the most common health issues people live with today. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is a pervasive medical condition. It reduces an individual’s capacity to hear and process sound which strains communication and produces multifaceted effects that impact overall health. Identifying and changing risk factors that can lead to hearing loss can help protect your hearing health.

Research Linking Smoking, Drinking, & Hearing Loss

Research shows that smoking and drinking can impact hearing health by contributing to hearing loss. This includes the following studies which investigate this correlation:

  1. 2019 study published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research Journal: researchers assessed smoking behavior and hearing health for nearly 50,000 people (ages 20-64) over 8 years. Researchers found that compared to nonsmokers, smokers were:

  • 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss

  • 20% more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss

Findings also showed that the more people smoked, the higher the risk was of developing hearing loss was.

  1. 2019 study published in the Journal of Audiology & Otology: researchers collected and analyzed data from a national health survey. This data included results from hearing tests and a questionnaire that assessed drinking behavior for 3,860 people (20 years old and higher). Researchers found that:

  • participants who reported their drinking as hazardous were 2.5 times more likely to experience hearing loss compared to those who identified their drinking as appropriate.

These findings support other studies that show that smoking and drinking increase the risk of hearing loss.

Impact of Smoking & Drinking on Hearing Health

You may be wondering how exactly smoking and drinking are connected to hearing health. Experts suggest that smoking and drinking can impact the circulation of oxygen throughout the body – including in the ears. Nicotine and alcohol can restrict blood vessels by decreasing blood oxygen levels which slow circulation to various body parts like the ears. This can prevent the ears from receiving sufficient oxygen which is needed to effectively absorb and process sound.

Restricted blood vessels and oxygen can affect the hair cells in the inner ear. These sensory cells send auditory information to the brain. The brain further analyzes this information and assigns meaning to the signals received from the inner ear which allows us to understand what we hear. The impact of smoking and drinking could cause these hair cells to become less effective, preventing them from sending auditory input to the brain. This results in permanent hearing loss.

Reducing Your Risk of Hearing Loss

There are several ways you can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss. Practicing safety measures is especially important if you are a smoker and/or drinker. A few tips include:

  • Change behaviors: studies show that the more one smokes and drinks, the greater the risk is of experiencing hearing loss. So adjusting your smoking and drinking patterns can be really helpful. Reduce or eliminate your intake which decreases health risks.

  • Have hearing assessed: another great safety measure is having your hearing tested regularly. This allows you to track your hearing health and identify any changes you may experience. Early intervention can significantly support your transition into better hearing health. Hearing tests are easy and painless, experts recommend having your hearing assessed annually.

  • Avoid additional hearing hazards: in addition to changing your smoking and drinking patterns and having your hearing checked regularly, there are other ways you can protect your hearing. This includes avoiding loud noise exposure – loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss. You can do this by maintaining lower volume settings on your electronic devices, taking listening breaks, avoiding environments that are noisy, wearing hearing protection, etc.

Practicing these safety measures can help alleviate the risk of hearing loss. To learn more about how you can prioritize and protect your hearing health, contact us to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. We look forward to learning more about your hearing health and discussing ways to meet your hearing needs.