How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

If you enjoy smoking and excessive drink, it’s likely you’ve attempted to block out consistent evidence around the health risks associated with these vices. Both are incredibly addictive and over time, what may have started as a joyful night or quiet moments to yourself can turn into an unhealthy habit which has become wrapped up in your identify. Still, as we age, it’s important to step back and gaze through a wider lenses of our choices and lifestyle. What brought you joy and support when you were younger, may no longer be serving you. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can lead to higher risk for certain types of cancer, particularly those of the mouth and throat, as well as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. As if these risks were not severe enough, perhaps this risk will be the one to push you to the edge of a lifestyle change. Did you know that smoking tobacco and excessive alcohol can contribute to higher rates of hearing loss?

How Smoking Affects Hearing

Many people are surprised that smoking can damage your hearing, but then this may be due to not understanding how our hearing works. There are many tiny parts of our inner ear which collect sound and send it to the brain including the ear drum, ossicles (tinniest bones in the body which amplify sound) and the snail shaped cochlea. Within the cochlea lie tiny hairlike cells called stereocilia, which transmit sound from your ears to your brain. These cells are incredibly fragile and irreplicable. They rely on an ample supply of oxygenated blood flow in order to stay healthy and continue to transmit sound. 

Tobacco contains nicotine, an addictive chemical which releases a sense of calm to the body. It also constricts blood cells and the stereocilia of the inner ear are no exception. In addition to nicotine’s wide range of impacts on the body, including lung damage, higher rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and a weakened immune system. Your hearing is at risk each time you smoke.

Studies on Smoking and Hearing Loss

A r study published in the Nicotine and Tobacco Research journal recently uncovered that smokers were 40% more likely to have hearing loss than those who don’t smoke. They found that those who smoke specifically were at a higher risk for high-frequency hearing loss, which makes it difficult to hear high-pitched sounds such as alarms and doorbells. It may also deprive you of some of your favorite sounds such as the chirping of birds and compromise your ability to hear music in the complete range it was intended.

The study found that those who smoked the most had the worst hearing. For instance, those who smoked a pack (20) cigarettes a day or more were 70% more likely to have impaired hearing.

Drinking and Hearing Loss

A lot of us love to drink to wind down at the end of a long day. However, for many of us, alcohol is an addictive substance. You cannot have “just one drink” because this can trigger a whole series of binges. However, even for those who do not possess the genetic disease of alcoholism can still experience the devastating health effects of overindulgence with alcohol.

Excessive alcohol consumption specifically affects our hearing, but not in the way that smoking does. Alcohol not only targets the stereocilia by depriving them of oxygen and leading to cell damage. It also can damage your brain, via irreversible cell death. Alcohol can negatively impact the central auditory cortex of the brain where sounds we hear, and process sounds from our ears. This can often manifest as a hidden hearing loss which cannot be identified by standard hearing tests. This is due to it impacting the brain’s ability to prioritize sounds in crowded spaces with competing sounds and multiple conversations occurring at once.

Treating Hearing Loss

If you’ve been enjoying these vices for years but have been reevaluating your relationship recently, it’s a good idea to stay on top of your hearing health. Take the first step and schedule a hearing exam. It’s never too late to cut back or quit smoking and drinking permanently and help protect your remaining hearing. In the meantime, a hearing exam can give us a snapshot of your current hearing and what steps to take next to support your hearing health. Contact us today to schedule your hearing exam.