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How Alcohol Affects Your Hearing

Feb 27, 2015 How Alcohol Affects Your Hearing

Open a bottle of wine with dinner, share a beer with a friend, or uncork a bottle of bubbly for a special occasion. But did you know that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to hearing loss?

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Hearing?

So how exactly does drinking alcohol cause hearing loss? There are several ways. 

#1) Shrinks The Auditory Cortex

Here's a simple explanation for a complex process...

  1. Your ears transmit sound signals to a part of your brain called the auditory cortex. 
  2. Then the auditory cortex turns those sound signals into the words, music and other sounds that you hear.  
  3. Excessive alcohol consumption can shrink the auditory cortex, which limits your ability to process sounds – and ultimately hear them.  

And it's not only binge drinking that can damage the auditory cortex. The effect of alcohol consumption on your brain is cumulative, so even moderate drinkers who drink for many years can suffer from hearing loss as a result of their drinking.

#2) Damages Auditory Hair Cells

  1. There are tiny hair cells in your inner ear that translate sounds into nerve impulses (which travel along the auditory nerve to the auditory cortex in your brain). 
  2. Excessive alcohol consumption can damage those inner ear hair cells.

Once those hair cells are damaged they do not regenerate. Any hearing loss resulting from damage to those inner ear hair cells is permanent.

#3) Causes Ringing In Your Ears

Drinking alcohol increases blood flow to the inner ear, which can cause tinnitus – a ringing, buzzing or swooshing sound in the ears. This condition can resolve itself in a few hours, but can still be quite annoying while it is present. Excessive drinking on a regular basis can lead to permanent tinnitus.

#4) Creates “Cocktail Deafness”

Hearing health professionals have coined the term “Cocktail Deafness” to describe noise-induced hearing loss that can occur when drinking in a loud bar or nightclub.  

Loud music, loud voices talking over the music, the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol and inhaling first or second-hand cigarette smoke can lead to tinnitus and hearing loss. 

The effects are often temporary, and resolve within a day or so. But exposure to these conditions often and for long periods of time can permanently damage your hearing.

#5) Puts You Off Balance

Alcohol gets absorbed into the fluid in your inner ear, and it can remain there long after you’ve stopped drinking – even after there's no more alcohol in your bloodstream. This can lead to vertigo and balance issues, and is why many people feel ‘the spins’ the morning after a night of heavy drinking.

What Can You Do?

If you suspect you may have alcohol-induced hearing loss,  come in for a FREE hearing screening and consultation to discuss your hearing health, and how to protect your hearing from further damage.

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