Excessive drinking is linked to a variety of chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, cancer, dementia, depression, anxiety and alcoholism. What many don’t know is that alcohol abuse is also linked to hearing loss.
Alcohol & Brain Health
A study by the University of Ulm in Germany found that heavy drinking over time damages the central auditory cortex, which is the part of the brain that processes and interprets sound. This damage leads to increased time processing auditory input, making it more difficult to follow conversations and distinguish between someone’s voice and background noise. This means that, while the ears may still work, the brain has a harder time deciphering meaning.
Alcohol & Hearing Health
In addition to damaging the part of your brain responsible for hearing, alcohol also destroys the stereocilia, or tiny hair cells of the inner ear that convert soundwaves to electrical impulses that are sent through the auditory nerve to the brain. Once damaged, these hair cells do not regenerate, and sensorineural hearing loss is the result.
A study of young adults in London found that alcohol use leads to problems hearing low-frequency sounds, especially for those with a history of heavy drinking; this condition is referred to as “cocktail deafness.” While the study did find that hearing returned to normal among participants once they stopped drinking, researchers hypothesize that recurring episodes of cocktail deafness may lead to permanent damage.
How Much Is Too Much?
Excessive drinking includes binge drinking, heavy drinking or any amount of drinking for certain populations.
- Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks during a single occasion for women, and five or more for men.
- Heavy drinking is defined as eight or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more per week for men.
- Any amount of drinking is dangerous for pregnant women, those under 21 years of age, people taking medications that interact with alcohol, and recovering alcoholics or those unable to control their drinking.
To learn more about setting healthy limits for alcohol, or to discuss options for alcohol-related hearing loss, talk to your provider today.