Hearing Loss & Drinking: Is There a Link?

Dr. David Dekriekhearing health, hearing loss, Hearing loss prevention, lifestyle

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From happy hour to a wedding celebration, cocktails, beer, and wine are beverages we enjoy in many different settings, for many different occasions. As with many things, drinking in moderation is not a problem, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, they say, “Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as reduce your risk of developing and dying from heart disease, possibly reduce your risk of ischemic stroke (when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow), and possibly reduce your risk of diabetes.”

That being said, these benefits are not 100% certain, and at the same time, people experience alcohol differently. In terms of moderation, the Mayo Clinic prescribes the following guidelines: “Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65 and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.”

Many of us have said, “Sure! I’ll meet you for a drink.” But what does one drink actually mean? If you’re drinking beer, that’s 12 fluid ounces. If it’s wine, one drink is 5 fluid ounces. And for people who like distilled spirits, that’s 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof liquor.

What happens when we go beyond moderate drinking guidelines? Today we’ll take a look at how our bodies process alcohol, and the potential effects drinking alcohol has on our hearing.

What Happens to Alcohol in Our Bodies?

Have you ever gotten a little too tipsy because you haven’t had enough to eat? Alcohol is absorbed in our stomachs and the small intestines, so it’s good to eat a meal or snack with your drink! Drinking on an empty stomach means you’ll absorb the alcohol faster. Because our bodies do not store alcohol – as they would fats or sugars, let’s say – we have to somehow break it down. This is where your liver comes in!

During the breakdown process, your liver turns alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is a toxic substance. This is then broken down further by your liver into acetate, which turns into carbon dioxide and water. These are then excreted from your body. Your liver does 90% to 95% of the work of metabolizing alcohol; the remaining percent is excreted through sweat, breath, or urine. Factors such as age and weight determine the amount and time it takes for your body to break down alcohol, and the average is one drink per hour. Drinking more than one drink per hour – or drink too quickly – causes your brain to act in ways you may recognize.

The Effects of Drinking on the Brain

When drinking too quickly, you may have experienced some of the following signs: giddiness, losing track of what you’re saying, feeling a lack of balance or unsteadiness when standing, seeing double, or feeling sick.

Drinking alcohol does have some impacts on your cognitive abilities. For occasional or moderate drinkers, alcohol may cause memory impairment, blackouts, recklessness, and impaired decision making. For heavy or chronic drinkers, it may lead to diminished brain size, inability to think abstractly loss of visuospatial abilities, memory loss, and loss of attention span.

According to the American Addiction Centers, “While it is true that alcohol can initially perk people up and help them to socialize at a party, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. The depressant effects of alcohol are witnessed when people who have been drinking have slurred speech and poor limb coordination that prevents them from being able to walk properly.”

While alcohol has obvious effects on how we speak, what about how we receive sound?

The Effects of Drinking on the Ears

According to the publication Hearing Health, “Excessive drinking causes a toxic environment in the inner ear…the toxicity created in the inner ear by excessive alcohol damages and destroys the hair cells, and they do not regenerate. Because the damage is permanent, so too is the resulting hearing loss.”

As hearing occurs in the brain, it would make sense that a substance that affects our cognitive abilities would interfere with how we hear. A study from the University of Ulm, Germany, found that “excessive drinking over a long period of time damages the central auditory cortex, increasing the time it takes to process sound.” In addition to slurring speech, drinking alcohol also diminishes our ability to hear and recognize speech.

Taking Care of Your Hearing Health

There’s no need to grow alarmed at these side-effects of drinking. Moderate alcohol consumption, determined to be one to 13 drinks per month, is not problematic. However, if you have been struggling with excessive alcohol consumption, it might be worth it to look into seeking help, whether through your primary care physician or a support group. In any case, cutting down on alcohol consumption does bring benefits to your health.

If you have experienced changes in your hearing, give us a call at Fidelity Hearing Center. We provide comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings. Our team is here to support you on your journey to better hearing health.