When it comes to your health, there are few lifestyle behaviors with as bad a reputation as smoking and drinking. These habits have been credited, rather discredited, with higher rates of a whole host of health problems ranging from severe conditions like cardiovascular disease to mild cosmetic effects for the skin, hair, and nails.
Although we have a general impression that these behaviors are not promoting good health, it is important to continue research on the direct effects, making sure we don’t make too many assumptions about these relationships. Indeed, another health condition we should consider is the possibility of a relationship with hearing ability.
Could it be that smoking and drinking can lead to a higher risk of hearing loss? In order to address this question, we need to look at the variety of studies that are out there, taking a comparative view of the many approaches that researchers and scientists have taken. Rather than bury the lead, let’s get one thing straight: smokers have much higher rates of hearing loss than non-smokers. However, when it comes to drinking, the results are equivocal.
Let’s look at these two behaviors one-by-one, asking ourselves how great a risk they pose to our hearing ability.
Smoking and Hearing Loss
Although musicians and sound engineers are notorious for smoking, this behavior might actually be preventing them from being able to do their job in the future. Smoking has a high correlation with hearing loss during several ages of life. The number of cigarettes also has a direct effect.
Those who smoke up to 10 cigarettes daily were 40 percent more likely to develop hearing loss in the high-frequency range. They were about 10 percent more likely to develop hearing loss in the lower frequency range. In comparison, those who smoked a pack a day or more had much higher rates. They were 70 percent more likely to get hearing loss in the high-frequency range than their non-smoking counterparts. They were also 40 percent more likely to have hearing loss in the low-frequency range.
Second-hand smoke has also demonstrated an association with hearing loss, particularly for those who live in the same house as someone who smokes. Although one recent study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison did not find any relationship between smoking and hearing loss, this study was in the minority among many others confirming the relationship.
Drinking and Hearing Loss
When it comes to drinking, the research findings are more mixed. One study from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom found that there was no negative effect of drinking on rates of hearing loss, controlling for other variables. They even found that those who drank some amount had a lower rate of hearing loss than those who completely abstain from drinking, otherwise known as “teetotalers.”
This study might seem puzzling, given what we know about drinking and other health outcomes. Indeed, the results might be more complicated than this study suggests. Researchers have discovered at least two ways in which excessive drinking does have a relationship with hearing loss.
In the first case, a sustained high blood alcohol content can actually limit the amount of oxygen that can travel to the ears. The tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ears, called stereocilia, are very sensitive to the amount of nourishing, oxygenated blood they receive from the cardiovascular system. High blood alcohol content over time can deprive the ears of that nourishment they need. Another risk of excessive drinking has to do not with the ears or the auditory nerve pathway but with the brain itself. Excessive drinking can cause brain damage, and that damage can include the parts of the brain responsible for receiving, processing, and comprehending sound.
For those with profound drinking problems, the relationship with a higher likelihood of hearing loss can be attributed to actual brain damage that makes it difficult to process the sound that makes its way to the ears.
With these results in mind, it seems that smoking cessation is not only good for your general health but for your hearing ability, as well. When it comes to drinking, excessive consumption seems to be the culprit for your ears, brain, and body alike.
If you are concerned about your hearing abilities, a hearing test is a useful tool! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation and a hearing test and learn more about healthy hearing practices.