We all look forward to parties and weekend meetings with our friends and family members. Alcohol remains an important factor in all fun-filled gatherings. Alcohol relaxes us and helps us shed our inhibitions. All is well if it’s a drink or two. Regular drinking or binge drinking has a serious effect on our health. Mostly alcohol drinkers worry about gaining extra calories. Exercises can help shed the calories gained. Hangovers are temporary and curable. But has anyone wondered what Alcohol is doing to our Ears? It is hard to believe but alcohol can affect hearing, regular heavy drinking does lead to Hearing Loss and other ear related issues. Research conducted at the University of Ulm in Germany established a relationship between alcohol and Sensorineural Hearing Loss.
Most regular drinkers are aware that alcohol causes liver damage, high blood pressure and weight gain. But they may not be aware of the connection between alcohol and Hearing loss. Regular alcohol drinking and binge drinking is harming our Ear health in many ways. Let us understand how alcohol can affect hearing.
Effect of Alcohol on The Auditory Cortex
A region in our brain known as the Central Auditory Cortex is responsible for interpreting sound signals. The sound signals collected by our outer ear finally reaches the brain in the form of electrical signals or stimuli. The Auditory Cortex translates these signals and helps us understand. Researchers at the University of Ulm conducted tests on regular drinkers and social drinkers. The results established that the damage to the Auditory Cortex in regular drinkers was more than social drinkers.
What are the Signs of Auditory Cortex Damage?
The Auditory Cortex region in the brain processes sound signals. It is a computer. After damage, this auditory computer slows down or processes data at a slower speed. If you are talking to someone who talks fast or quickly, you will miss out on a few words. Your ears can hear and are passing the information to the brain. But the brain is processing at a much slower speed. This makes you miss out on a few words in the sentence.
The damage can be temporary during the period of alcohol consumption. The situation becomes normal after the effect of alcohol wears off. However, the damage becomes permanent if drinking is regular.
Why Can’t I Hear Clearly After Drinking?
Do you know why parties get noisy and loud? Parties don’t generally start that way but get noisy as they progress. In other words, it gets noisy and loud as the consumption of alcohol increases.
Our Inner Ear contains thousands of delicate tiny Hair cells which help us to hear. These hair cells are fully submerged and float in a fluid. During heavy alcohol consumption, the liver is unable to process all the alcohol. The unprocessed or un-metabolised alcohol passes into the bloodstream and circulates in the body. This creates a toxic environment for the ear. The toxicity damages the Hair cells and they cannot process sound efficiently. This causes temporary deafness.
What is Cocktail Deafness?
This temporary deafness due to heavy alcohol consumption is also known as “Cocktail Deafness” or “Cocktail Party Effect”. This effect is temporary. The low frequencies are mostly affected, i.e. the lower end of the frequency band or the male voice. In lighter moments – the positive aspect is that you will be still able to converse with your wife avoiding undue marital discord.
This temporary deafness becomes permanent if there is a constant toxic environment in the ear due to regular intake of alcohol. The toxicity causes permanent damage to the hair cells resulting in Sensorineural Hearing loss. Please note that to date there is no cure for Sensorineural Hearing loss. Use of Hearing aids and Cochlear Implants are the available options
Why Can’t I Walk Straight After A Few Drinks?
We tend to get wobbly on our feet, miss a few steps and fail to retain our balance after we have downed a few drinks. Why does that happen? What do our Ears have to do with it? Not known to many, our ears not only help us to hear but also help us to maintain our balance.
How Does The Ear Help In Balance?
The inner ear plays a very important role in the sense of balance. The fluid in our inner ear is responsible for maintaining our physical balance. The fluid has a constant volume and concentration. Any change in the concentration and composition can cause dizziness. The ear absorbs the alcohol from the bloodstream which changes the composition of the fluid. This results in dizziness and unsteady walk after a few rounds of drinks. The alcohol stays in the inner ear much after the body has metabolised the alcohol in the blood. Constant levels of alcohol in the blood can cause Vertigo. A person suffering from Vertigo feels that they or the things around them are spinning or moving.
Dehydration Due to Alcohol
Consumption of alcohol also causes dehydration in the body. The reduction of water in the body affects the concentration of the fluid in the ear. Change in concentration can also lead to dizzy spells. The dizziness in this case is temporary. Hydrating the body will normalise the fluid concentration.
Can Alcohol Cause Tinnitus?
Consumption of alcohol does cause Tinnitus. Tinnitus is the continuous ringing sound in the ear. The sound originates internally and not from an external source. As in all the above cases, initially, the effect is temporary. The ringing stops after the effects of alcohol wear down.
How Does Alcohol Cause Tinnitus?
The alcohol causes the blood vessels to swell. The blood vessels carrying blood to the ear carry excess blood. The excess blood supply to the inner causes a sort of ringing or swooshing sound. The ringing lasts or a few hours till the expanded blood vessels return to their normal size.
In a study conducted on 51 subjects in a Tinnitus clinic. 84% of the patients reported an increase in Tinnitus due to consumption of alcohol.
Continuous consumption of alcohol can result in permanent Tinnitus.
Consumption of alcohol also impairs the other activities of the brain. The part of the brain which calculates the risk also slows down. This is the reason why we tend to rake rash steps while drunk. We continue to have a conversation loudly at a party with blaring music. In normal circumstances, we would have found a quiet corner to converse. This behaviour further damages our ears. Loud sounds are the second most common reason for Hearing loss after old age.
Drink responsibly and maintain ear Health. Our sense of Hearing is one of the five important senses of our body.