How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

February 15, 2021
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Smoking and drinking can impact health in a variety of ways. The health risks associated with these activities are widely known. But did you know that smoking and drinking can contribute to the development of hearing loss? The third most common, chronic health conditions that older adults experience today; hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to absorb and process sound.

This strains communication which can make it challenging to perform tasks, engage with others, and fully participate in daily activities. Hearing loss is a permanent condition so identifying risk factors in a critical way to prevent its development. Research has long established smoking and drinking as modifiable behavior that can protect hearing health!

Research Linking Smoking, Drinking, & Hearing Loss

Various studies have explored the relationship between smoking, drinking, and hearing loss. Two recent studies that establish a link and identify smoking and drinking as hazardous for hearing health include:

  1. 2018 Study: “Smokers at Greater Risk of Hearing Loss”, published in Science Daily

  • Study: researchers in Japan examined the effects of smoking on hearing by studying over 50,000 workers, ages 20 to 64, for 8 years. At the beginning of the study, these participants did not have hearing loss. This population included smokers, nonsmokers, and former smokers. During the duration of study, 5,100 people developed hearing loss. Researchers investigated data provided by annual health screenings, hearing tests, and questionnaires that captured smoking behavior.

  • Findings: after analyzing this data, researchers found that the participants who smoked were:

  • 60% more likely to develop high frequency hearing loss

  • 20% more likely to develop low frequency hearing loss

Another important finding was that as consumption of cigarettes (number of cigarettes smoked per day) increased, so did the risk of hearing loss.

  1. 2019 Study: Hazardous Alcohol Consumption & the Risk of Hearing Impairment”, published in Journal of Audiology & Otology

  • Study: in this study, researchers in South Korea assessed the impact of drinking on hearing health. Researchers examined data from a national survey which included 3,860 participants, ages 20 and older. This data encompassed results from hearing tests and information about drinking patterns provided by a questionnaire.

  • Findings: after analyzing the data, researchers found that, compared to the people who identified their drinking level as appropriate; people who marked hazardous drinking were 2.5 times more likely to have hearing loss.

These studies highlight that smoking and drinking increase the risk of hearing loss. But how exactly do both of these activities impact the process of hearing?

Impact of Smoking & Drinking on Hearing Health

The auditory system involves the outer, middle, and inner ear in addition to the brain working together to process sound. These integral components of the hearing process consist of the ear canal, ear drum, auditory ossicles, cochlea, auditory pathways etc. which require healthy blood flow and oxygen to perform their essential functions. Researchers suggest that the ingredients contained in cigarettes and alcohol can cause damage that impacts this process.

  • Smoking: ingredients include nicotine and carbon monoxide which can impact hearing by:

  • reducing oxygen levels and restricting blood vessels in the body. This includes the blood vessels in the inner ear which sustain the thousands of hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain where they are processed and assigned meaning to; enabling us to understand what we hear.

  • disrupt the neurotransmitters in the auditory pathways that carry sound information to your brain to process.

  • Drinking:

  • Alcohol can damage the auditory cortex; excessive drinking can reduce its size which can limit its ability. The auditory cortex is the area of the brain that receives and processes sound.

  • Alcohol can also damage the tiny hair cells in the inner ear.

Smoking and drinking, done in excess especially, can be harmful to health. But it is important to acknowledge that these are behavioral patterns that you can change which reduce your risk of developing medical conditions like hearing loss. A few simple ways you can prioritize your hearing health is by reducing your consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. In doing so, you can enhance your overall health and wellness!

If you have experienced changes in your hearing, it is important to schedule a hearing test. Contact us today!