Hearing loss is a progressive condition that is often the result of damage to the inner ear. There are many factors that can cause such damage – most commonly, exposure to loud noises – but one cause that may surprise you is alcohol consumption. A number of studies have looked into how exactly excessive alcohol consumption can impact your hearing.
A study of young adults in London found that alcohol use is associated with difficulty hearing low frequency sounds – a condition referred to as cocktail deafness. While for most participants, hearing returned to normal after they were finished drinking, researchers theorize that extended or repeated instances of excessive alcohol consumption could lead to permanent damage.
The inner ear contains tiny hair cells, called stereocilia, that convert soundwaves to electrical energy, which is then transported to the brain to be interpreted as sound. Alcohol is ototoxic, meaning it damages the stereocilia – and once damaged, it cannot be reversed.
Alcohol & the Brain
Another study by German researchers at the University of Ulm found that heavy drinking over time causes damage to the central auditory cortex. So while the ears may still be functional, it’s actually the brain that cannot “hear” anymore. This leads to increased time to process sounds, especially speech in background noise.
Preventing Alcohol-Associated Hearing Loss
You may be asking yourself, “How much is too much?” While it’s likely the occasional drink won’t lead to permanent hearing loss, drinking in excess, especially over long periods of time, is certain to cause hearing damage.
Excessive alcohol consumption is defined by the CDC as:
- Drinking 5 or more drinks on one occasion (men)
- Drinking 4 or more drinks on one occasion (women)
- Drinking 15 or more drinks per week (men)
- Drinking 8 or more drinks per week (women)
- Underage drinking
- Drinking while pregnant
For reference, a standard drink is considered 12 ounces of beer (5% ABU), 8 ounces of malt liquor (7% ABU), 5 ounces of wine (12% ABU) or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits/liquor (40% ABU).
If you’re ready to quit or reduce your drinking, talk to a health care provider today. There are a variety of inpatient and outpatient alcohol recovery services in Charleston.
To diagnose or treat hearing loss associated with alcohol consumption, schedule an appointment at the The Hearing & Balance Center.
Learn about more Causes of Hearing Aids:
- People with Diabetes Have a Higher Risk of Hearing Loss
- Age-Related Genes for Hearing Loss Discovered
- Can Allergies Cause Hearing Loss?
Our Charleston Area Audiologists Office Locations
2295 Henry Tecklenburg Dr
Charleston, SC 29414
180 Wingo Way, Suite 103
Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
537 Folly Road
Charleston, SC 29412