How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing 

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing 

Did you know that both smoking and drinking are risk factors for hearing loss? Research shows that smoking and drinking can contribute to the development of hearing loss, one of the most common health issues people live with today. Over 48 million people have hearing loss, a condition that reduces capacity to hear and process sound. This produces a range of symptoms that often take a toll on communication which has multifaceted effects on relationships, social life, and health. Adjusting modifiable risk factors like smoking and drinking can reduce your risk of experiencing hearing loss. 

Research Linking Smoking, Drinking, & Hearing Loss 

There is substantial research that shows a correlation between smoking, drinking, and increased risk of developing hearing loss. Two major studies that investigate these links are: 

  1. 2019 study published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research Journal: to investigate the impact of smoking on hearing health, researchers evaluated 50,000 people (ages 20-64) over an 8-year period. This included collecting data on hearing capacities and smoking behavior. Key findings include that compared to nonsmokers, smokers were: 
  • 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss 
  • 20% more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss 

This data highlights a significant link between smoking and hearing loss. Researchers also 

found that the more one smoked, the higher the risk was of hearing loss. 

  1. 2019 study published in the Journal of Audiology & Otology: this study specifically focuses on the impact of drinking on hearing health. Researchers assessed the drinking patterns and hearing health of 3,860 people, ages 20 years and older. Researchers found that: 
  • participants who reported their drinking as hazardous were 2.5 times more likely to experience hearing loss compared to those who identified their drinking as appropriate. 

These studies support further research that identifies smoking and drinking as risk factors for hearing loss. These behaviors can irreparably damage the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing. 

Impact of Smoking & Drinking on Hearing Health 

Smoking and drinking can affect the auditory system – the ears and brain which work together to absorb and process speech as well as sound – in a few ways. Nicotine, the active ingredient in cigarettes, and alcohol can damage the blood vessels and nerves that are essential for processing sound. These ingredients can constrict blood flow, slowing circulation throughout the body including the ears. This can disrupt the complex process of how soundwaves are absorbed and processed specifically by impairing the sensory cells in the inner ear. 

There are thousands of sensory cells in the inner ear which convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals. This is a crucial component of how sound is processed. These signals get carried to the brain which is then able to further process them, this involves assigning meaning to these signals which allows us to understand what we hear. Reduced blood flow can affect this process by weakening or impairing sensory cells, causing the brain to receive less auditory information. This forces the brain to work harder to try to search for and process sound signals, producing chronic hearing loss 

Tips to Protect Hearing Health

There are several strategies you can practice to help protect your hearing health. This is especially important if you engage in smoking and drinking. The following tips can reduce your risk of hearing loss: 

  • Reduce or eliminate intake: research findings show that the more that is consumed (smoking and drinking), the greater the risk is of experiencing hearing loss. Eliminating or even reducing intake can reduce this risk. 
  • Test hearing: another useful strategy is getting your hearing health tested regularly. Hearing tests measure hearing capacity in both ears and identify any hearing loss. Integrating a hearing test in annual health check-ins allow you to monitor your hearing health and catch any changes you may experience early on. 
  • Reduce loud noise exposure: loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss. If you already experience increased risk of hearing loss, reducing your exposure to loud noise is a useful tip. You can do this by maintaining lower volume settings on electronic devices, taking listening breaks throughout the day, and avoiding noisy environments. 

These safety measures can help protect your hearing health. To start practicing these strategies, contact us to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.