You likely already know about the link between alcohol consumption and diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. What many don’t know about is the link between consuming alcohol in excess and hearing loss.
Alcohol & Hearing Loss
The inner ear is home to stereocilia, or the tiny hair cells in the cochlea that translate sound waves into electrical signals that are interpreted by the brain as sound. Because alcohol is ototoxic, over time it can damage these tiny hair cells; once damaged, they cannot regenerate.
One study in London examined the effects of alcohol use and hearing. Researchers found that alcohol consumption was linked to low-frequency hearing loss – a condition they referred to as “cocktail deafness.” For most participants, hearing returned to normal after they were done drinking; however, researchers hypothesize that frequent episodes of cocktail deafness can lead to long-term damage.
Alcohol & Brain Damage
Alcohol damages not only the ears, but also the brain. The auditory cortex is the region of the brain responsible for processing sound, and it can also be damaged by heavy drinking. This means that even if the ears are fully functional, the brain still may not be able to understand certain sounds.
Another study from Germany found that heavy drinking over long periods of time causes permanent damage to the central auditory cortex. This leads to increased time for processing sounds, which causes trouble understanding people who speak quickly or distinguishing one sound from another in environments with heavy background noise.
Hearing & Imbalance
The inner ear is not just responsible for helping you hear, but also helping you balance. Anyone who’s had a couple drinks knows that alcohol can cause the spins, and here’s why:
The inner ear is full of fluid that helps you orient yourself in space; alcohol changes the volume and composition of this fluid, and the result is dizziness or imbalance.
Alcohol is absorbed into this fluid and stays there even after it’s no longer in the blood or brain. This is why you may feel vertigo when you’re hungover.
To learn more about how alcohol can affect your hearing and balance system, talk to a CENTA Medical Group provider today.