Can Drinking Affect Your Hearing?

Cheers to the coming New Year! We all know New Year’s Eve is filled with opportunities to drink — often too much.  A survey among adults 21 and older found that almost 40 percent said they or someone they know have used the holidays as an excuse to drink more alcohol than they normally would. But did you know that your liver and heart are not the only things at risk when you drink excessively? Studies have shown that high amounts of alcohol consumed over long periods can also affect your hearing.

Alcohol can damage the central auditory cortex

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over time can damage the auditory cortex, which is the part of your brain that receives and processes sound, and can result in brain shrinkage. So, even though your ears are fine, your brain could be left unable to properly process incoming sounds.

Drinking can harm inner ear cells

Heavy drinking can create a poisonous environment in your inner ear (ototoxicity), resulting in damage or destruction of the hair cells (stereocilia). These cells are responsible for translating sound into electrical impulses sent through the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex. Frequent exposure to high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream leads to ototoxicity, and because hair cells cannot regenerate or be restored through medical intervention, any damage that occurs will be permanent.

Excessive alcohol affects balance

Have you ever wondered why you might get the ‘spins’ after a night of heavy drinking? It’s because of the effect it has on your inner ears. Alcohol is absorbed into, and increases the density of, the fluid in your inner ear. This swelling bends the hair cells, sending an altered signal to your brain that disrupts your equilibrium, which can result in balance issues, vertigo, and falls.

Deafness by cocktail

Cocktail deafness refers to the noise-induced hearing loss that can occur when drinking alcohol in places with increased sound levels like a noisy bar or loud party. One study examined whether alcohol alone or in combination with noise could cause hearing loss. Researchers found that alcohol can weaken an individual’s ability to hear at lower frequencies, which is essential for understanding speech. This likely explains why everything seems to get louder as a night of drinking goes on ― the more individuals drink, the less they are able to hear, resulting in everyone raising their voices. Typically, cocktail deafness is temporary and hearing returns to normal the next day, but frequent exposure to this kind of noisy environment can result in permanent damage.

Moderation is the key to preserving hearing

Curtailing alcohol consumption is one way to avoid hearing loss that you can control. So, enjoy welcoming in the New Year by all means, but remember, if you want to hear as well at the end of the year as you did when it began, keep overindulgences to a minimum. And if you suspect you might have hearing loss, visit a hearing care professional to schedule a hearing test and discuss all the ways to protect your hearing.