Now that the holiday season is in full swing, there is no shortage of holiday parties and gatherings, and the alcohol often flows freely at such events. We use alcohol for lots of special occasions: we ring in the new year with champagne, on vacation we may appreciate a glass of wine with dinner. We may even have a cocktail to unwind. Studies have shown that there can be benefits to alcohol in moderation, though drinking too much can also result in serious health implications including the health of your ears and the quality of your hearing.
The Dangers of Drinking Too Much
We hear often to never drink and drive, as it is widely known that alcohol consumption can impact cognitive abilities as well as motor function. When drinking to the point of intoxication, many lose the ability to exercise good judgement and caution while long-term, excessive drinking can eventually cause liver problems as well as high blood pressure, strokes, and heart disease. One thing you may not have heard is that excessive alcohol consumption could also increase the likelihood of hearing damage.
Our Brains on Alcohol
The auditory cortex of the brain, which translates noises from our ears into meaningful sound, can be harmed by drinking too much. When there is damage to the auditory cortex, our brains can “forget” how to translate the sound from the world so we can understand it. Even when you hear the sounds around you, you could have difficulty understanding those sounds.
When speech is spoken rapidly, you may begin to have trouble understanding what is being said. Distinguishing between varying sounds and voices and sounds can become a problem, as well as filtering out background noise.
Our Ears on Alcohol
Deep inside of our ears we have delicate, tiny hair cells that gather sounds and interpret them into electrical pulses to the brain. These little hair cells can be damaged by alcohol use, and they cannot regrow or repair themselves.
A phenomenon called “cocktail deafness” was discovered by a study in the UK that followed young adults who became drunk and found that they sometimes experienced temporary hearing damage. Though hearing typically returned for these young people after a few hours, recurrent bouts of cocktail deafness can result in permanent hearing loss in the long run.
Alcohol and Dizziness
If you have ever spent a night of heavy drinking out, you may have found that you experienced a feeling of dizziness or imbalance while you were inebriated.
This feeling of imbalance is the result of a change in your inner ear fluid, which controls your feelings of balance. Drinking too much can cause this change in the inner ear. This is why motor functions like walking and driving are affected when we are drunk: we feel unbalanced and have difficulty with perception.
Alcohol is absorbed into the inner ear fluid, remaining there longer than it does in the bloodstream. If this happens too often, episodes of vertigo or dizziness may result. You may feel disoriented, like the room is spinning, and have difficulty with ordinary spatial function.
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears can be another side effect of excessive alcohol consumption—it usually disappears in just a few hours, but some episodes can last longer.
Alcohol and Hearing Loss
There are many reasons to abstain from heavy drinking: hearing health is just one more reason to avoid drinking to excess. If you are concerned about your drinking habits, there are many resources available to help you quit drinking. One of these is discussing your concerns with your doctor. A medical professional can offer further insight on how past drinking may have impacted your health thus far or what damage could occur if unhealthy habits are continued.
Contact Our Hearing Doctor Today to get Screened for Sensorineural Hearing Loss!
Here at California Hearing Center we are committed to your hearing health and are happy to provide a range of services to our patients. If you are having difficulty hearing after a night of drinking or as a result of any other health condition, call us today to request a hearing screening. With offices in San Mateo and San Carlos, CA, when you visit California Hearing Center, our friendly and caring staff will listen to your concerns and recommend a treatment plan tailored to your needs.