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December 19, 2014

Excessive alcohol can influence hearing loss

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By Aoife Connors
aoife.connors@imt.ie



Excessive alcohol consumption may affect our hearing, new research has found.  While many people are aware of the obvious risks associated with binge drinking, it is not commonly known that excessive drinking can cause loss of hearing.

Dr Nina Byrnes, Irish GP and Medical Liaison Officer with Hidden Hearing — the Irish hearing healthcare provider — explained that studies have shown that high alcohol consumption over a long period of time can result in damage to the central auditory cortex of the brain and may lead to brain shrinkage. As the damage to the auditory nerves adds up, even moderate drinkers may risk nerve damage and hearing loss.

Researchers from the University of Ulm in Germany tested both heavy and social drinkers’ Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials (BAEP) levels, by testing the level of damage in the part of the brain that enables one to hear. The results indicated that drinking affects the ability to hear.

The research shows that alcohol can result in brain damage, but the quantity of alcohol and the length of time needed to accomplish this remains unknown. Although the ears may continue to function perfectly, the brain is no longer able to process the sounds.

The study also shows that people who suffer from alcoholism may suffer damage within their ears.

The high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream can create a toxic environment known as ototoxicity, which can damage the delicate hair cells in the cochlea. “We all know that alcohol can cause nerve and brain damage. However, this new research suggesting the link between alcohol and hearing loss is very interesting and would warrant further investigation,” said Dr Byrnes. “As people’s ability to hear reduces, it can often lead to other problems, such as less social interaction, lack of confidence, depression and irritability.”

A previous British study has shown that alcohol and noise can cause temporary hearing loss. All of the participants in one study were found to have temporary hearing loss.

Researchers also believe that a regular ingestion of alcohol may lead to permanent hearing loss in the long term.