How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA Hearing Loss, Lifestyle & Leisure

Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA
Latest posts by Leanne E. Polhill, LHAS, BC-HIS, BA (see all)

Lots of people will tell you that tobacco and alcohol can be dangerous to your health.  They can affect everything from your lungs, brain, heart, energy level and immune system.  Did you know that a lifestyle of smoking and drinking can also serious affect your ability to hear? It has been proven time and time again that smoking and drinking can be risk factor for hearing loss. Studies have shown that exposure to cigarette smoke even when it is second had or in-utero can affect someone’s hearing health while alcohol can add serious risk to your brain and hearing. 

How does smoking affect hearing? 

A study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that compared to nonsmokers, current smokers who smoked up to 10 cigarettes daily were 40 percent more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss, and 10 percent more likely to suffer low-frequency hearing loss. But how exactly does this happen?

Both nicotine and carbon monoxide lower oxygen blood levels and constrict blood vessels through out your body–including the blood vessels in your inner ear responsible for maintaining hair cell health. Audiologists suggest that nicotine and cigarette smoke are thought to interfere with neurotransmitters in the auditory nerve, which are responsible for reporting to the brain the particular sounds you are hearing.  Tobacco smoke is also believed to irritate the Eustachian tube and lining of the middle ear, trigger the release of free radicals that can damage DNA and cause disease and make you more sensitive to loud noises that can make you more vulnerable to noise related hearing loss.

Risks of smoking to your hearing

Tinnitus: Rates of tinnitus are higher in smokers than non-smokers, but a direct cause-and-effect relationship haven’t been completely explored.

Ear infection: Smoking weakens the immune system and it damages tissues in the nose and throat, making them more susceptible to infections that affect the ears

Pregnancy: Children born to mothers who smoked while pregnant are also at elevated risk of developing hearing loss.

Risks of excess alcohol consumption and healthy hearing

Studies have shown that high alcohol consumption over a long period of time can result in damage to the central auditory cortex of the brain and may lead to brain shrinkage. Because the damage to the auditory nerves adds up, even moderate drinkers may risk nerve damage and hearing loss.

The alcohol researchers believe that drinking can result in brain damage, while the quantity of alcohol and the length of time needed to accomplish are still to be determined. Even when the ears are functioning perfectly, the brain is no longer able to process the sounds, resulting in hearing loss due to repeated use of alcohol. This is an extreme risk for those who suffer from alcoholism.

The high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream can create a toxic environment, which can damage the delicate hair cells in the cochlea. This condition is known as ototoxicity.

The sooner you stop these unhealthy habits the better

If you smoke, the good news is that, according to the American Lung Association, 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your blood pressure decreases and your circulation improves. Within 8 hours, your carbon monoxide and oxygen levels return to normal. In 48 hours, your sense of smell and taste improve and your nerve endings begin to regenerate. The sooner you quit the better.  The sooner you stop drinking alcohol the sooner you can stop damage to your brain.

While you can’t reverse any sensorineural hearing loss you’ve developed during your smoking and drinking years, you can prevent any future damage to your hearing once you quit.

Benefits of treating hearing loss

Hearing loss is the third most common condition in the US, affecting 20% of the population. While there are many different causes of hearing loss, the most common treatment is the use of hearing aids. Because hearing loss occurs gradually, many people are not aware that their hearing abilities have changed and do not seek treatment. Taking an annual hearing test helps you stay abreast of your hearing abilities and seeking treatment brings significant benefits to your relationships, employment, and mental well-being.

Encore Hearing

If you’ve noticed changes in your hearing, contact us at Encore Hearing to schedule a hearing test. Addressing hearing loss early brings significant benefits to your life and well-being. If a hearing loss is detected, we can help you find the best treatment plan to get you on the road to healthy hearing. Contact us today to learn more.