How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

How Smoking & Drinking May Affect Hearing

To say the least, using tobacco and alcohol over long periods of time brings a wealth of undesirable health complications. Often, the results are far more dramatic and even fatal. One in five deaths can be linked to smoking each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nicotine use can cause cancer of the lungs and cancer elsewhere in the body. Excessive alcohol use is the cause of 261 American deaths per day and is linked to chronic conditions like liver disease, heart disease and stroke, cirrhosis, other cancers and hypertension.

And if that isn’t enough reason to forgo nicotine and alcohol, both can cause damage to otherwise healthy hearing. 

Effects of alcohol use on hearing

Scientists have long concluded that heavy use of alcohol over time can contribute to brain damage. In fact, German researchers investigate the impact of alcohol specifically on the auditory processing centers of the brain. They found a link between damage to the brain and drinking behaviors, for both social and heavy drinkers. 

Typically, with sensorineural hearing loss, or hearing loss resulting from damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve,  it is the fine cells of the inner ear that are damaged and thus result in a loss of sound information flowing to the brain. The effects of alcohol use come at hearing health from a different direction. The physical apparatus of the ears, which collect sound information, may be in fine condition. However, the parts of the brain which process sound can become damaged with alcohol use over time.

That said, alcoholics who have high levels of alcohol in their bloodstream can do real damage to the ear itself, too. These high levels of alcohol create a toxicity to the body which can harm the fine inner ear cells responsible for collecting sound information before it is transmitted to the brain. 

Effects of tobacco use on hearing

The disastrous effects of tobacco on practically all health functions are beyond question. However, while it seems apparent that smoking harms hearing health, there was a recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison which found no link. 

As we collectively continue to research the link between smoking and hearing health, here are the results of other respected studies that provide a contradictory finding.

Published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, scientists compared nonsmokers to current smokers, finding that those who smoked a moderate amount were 40% more inclined towards high frequency hearing loss. Heavy smokers fared far worse. Those who had a pack a day habit were 70% more likely to have high frequency hearing loss. 

In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association published research that conclusively linked smoking and an increased risk of hearing loss. As with the previous study, the more a person smoked, the higher their risk of damage to their hearing health. Various scientists have also found a link between exposure to second-hand smoke and an increased risk of hearing loss. 

Get help for nicotine and alcohol addiction

Certainly, if you’re using nicotine and alcohol excessively, there are factors at play beyond simple decision making. Nicotine itself is one of the most addictive substances on the plane and a long-term habit can be difficult to free yourself from. 

Addiction is a hard road to travel alone, but there are resources available if you are ready to quit using nicotine or alcohol. The CDC has a robust collection of resources to help you with smoking cessation that can be accessed here. One of the most powerful things you can do is arm yourself with information, set a quit date, and seek out appropriate support. 

If you are a social drinker, it might be easier to adjust your drinking habits. Alcoholism, however, can be an entirely different matter. You can find information on ways to stop drinking at ​​the National Institutes for Health website

Changing ingrained or addictive behaviors can be overwhelming, but each positive step forward is a step in the right direction.

Schedule a hearing test today

If you think that long term use of nicotine or alcohol has impacted your hearing health, it’s easy to schedule a quick hearing test. Our team of hearing health professionals stand ready to guide you through the painless exam process and assist you in choosing the right tools for successful intervention.