How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Research by Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HISLeave a Comment

Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HIS

You may enjoy smoking and drinking, despite constant reminders from medical providers, public health officials and concerned friends and family about the dangerous health risks. Smoking is commonly associated with cancer and lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, while heavy drinking increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure, cognitive damage, as well as damaging your liver and pancreas. Now recent research has found that smoking and drinking might also put you at a higher risk for hearing loss.

The Dangers of Hearing Loss

While you may not prioritize the dangers of hearing loss over heart disease, and cancer, the risk is very serious to our overall health. Hearing loss has a wide range of damaging side effects which are emotional, cognitive, and physical in nature. When we struggle to hear we put a strain on all the relationships in our life at home and in a professional setting. This can lead to chronic depression, anxiety, and social isolation. In addition struggling to hear missing parts of sound puts stress on the brain, increasing the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia exponentially according to the degree of hearing loss. On a physical level, living with untreated hearing loss also increased the likeliness of falls and accidents, leading to hospitalizations.

The Addictive Nature of Nicotine

Despite the overwhelming information that smoking is dangerous for your health, many continue to smoke, reporting that they enjoy the ritual of smoking. Many people start smoking when they are young and due to it’s addictive nature it’s difficult to stop.  In addition, many smokers report that smoking gives them a pleasurable feeling though this may be associated with the withdraw of nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco smoke are easily absorbed into the blood through the lungs at a very fast pace, making this substance one of the most addictive chemicals. It’s important to understand that even if you’ve built your days around cigarettes for years, you can still quit at any time. If you needed one more reason to quit, recent research has found that cigarettes can also damage your hearing.

How Smoking Leads to Hearing Loss

Nicotine is the primary addictive chemical in tobacco which makes it additictive. Nicotine restricts blood flow, reducing the amount of oxygen which is delivered to the cells throughout the entire body. This includes the delicate hair-like cells of the inner ear which are the sole delivery system of audio information to the brain. When these cells are deprived of healthy oxygenated blood, they can suffocate and die, leaving gaps in your hearing perception. In short, nicotine is classified as an ototoxic chemical, a group of chemicals which damage the inner ear. A recent study found that smokers were over 15% more likely to have hearing loss than non-smokers, while those who lived with smokers -exposed to second hand smoke were at an equal risk.

Drinking and Hearing Loss

Anyone who has woken up from a night of heavy drinking knows how awful a hangover feels. When this becomes a normal occurrence, it’s no surprise this can have lasting negative effects throughout your body. Alcohol changes brain chemistry, for many causing a greater amount of pleasure chemicals, increasing chances of developing physical dependence.  Now, researchers from the University of Ulm in Germany have found that excessive drinking is also damaging to your hearing. By testing heavy drinkers, as well as social drinkers, they found that alcohol consumption can damage the central auditory cortex in the brain, the region responsible for interpreting the sounds the ear picks up. This cognitive damage is irreparable, causing lifelong hearing loss. Even moderate drinkers and social drinkers are at a greater risk for hearing loss, though the more you drink, the greater the risk.

Saving Your Hearing

If you are ready to invest in your hearing health, an evaluation of your lifestyle practices may be in order. If you smoke and drink and have been looking for one more reason to cut back and quit- protecting your hearing health is a great inspiration. With healthy hearing you can enjoy greater ease of socializing, engaging in the activities you love and staying active and healthy. It’s never too late to make a change! Schedule a hearing exam today and stay on top of your hearing health!

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