We all know that healthy eating and exercise are good for us, they can improve your quality of life and make you less vulnerable to disease. The opposite is equally true – smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating fast food can increase your chances of developing diseases such as diabetes and cancer. But did you know that these lifestyle factors influence hearing as well? In this post, we will look at what you can do to protect your hearing and what you might be doing to damage it.
Smoking and drinking alcohol
Excessive drinking and smoking are bad for your overall health but did you know that binge drinking and smoking also puts you at risk for hearing loss? That’s because excessive drinking and smoking can lead to cardiovascular problems, which can reduce the blood flow to your inner ear and lead to hair cell damage in your cochlea.
Cigarettes contain several toxic chemicals such as ammonia, arsenic, and formaldehyde. These chemicals can cause damage to your delicate inner ear structures, leading to hearing loss. Smoking can also harm the hearing of people around you because they’ll be exposed to second-hand smoke which makes them twice as likely to develop a hearing loss as those who are not.
Having several drinks can lead to a temporary loss in your ability to hear background noise. This phenomenon is called “cocktail deafness”. You may also experience temporary tinnitus (ringing in your ears) after a night of heavy drinking. Over time, and without proper care, this temporary loss of hearing and tinnitus can become permanent.
Exposure to loud music
Noise can be very damaging to our hearing. The type of noise, loudness, and amount of time you are exposed to it will influence how much damage it will cause. Recently, studies were conducted to compare the amount of hearing loss a classical musician incurs versus a rock artist. Interestingly, classical musicians had a greater amount of hearing loss than rock artists. The reason for this is that they were exposed to loud noise for longer periods per day, even though the rock artists were exposed to higher intensities of noise.
This study highlights that even though once off exposure to loud noise is bad for you, exposure to moderate amounts of noise for a long period per day can be even more harmful. Listening to a moderate level of music while you are working, for example, can cause more damage than the occasional music concert.
It’s best to keep the volume down when you listen to music, and keep the length of exposure to a minimum. Over-the-ear earphones cause less damage than in-the-ear headphones making it worthwhile to invest in a pair.
A sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating can lead to a whole host of health problems, including obesity and diabetes. People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss as people without diabetes. Scientists are not sure why this is, but studies suggest that decreased blood flow to your inner ear might lead to hair cell damage. The damage can also occur in your auditory nerve. The resulting hearing loss is called a sensorineural hearing loss. This is a hearing loss that cannot be reversed and is often not noticed immediately.
If you do have diabetes it is important to contact your audiologist and doctor as soon as you notice signs of hearing loss. Make sure you go for a hearing screen annually. Managing your diabetes is key to how many complications you are likely to have. With Type 1 diabetes, correct insulin management is critical. Further, it is important to maintain a healthy weight and make regular exercise part of your daily routine.
Signs of sensorineural hearing loss
The symptoms of sensorineural hearing loss can be very subtle. Early detection and intervention are key to how effective treatment will be. The following signs are important to look out for:
- Asking for repetition
- Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
- Struggling to determine where a sound is coming from
- Struggling to hear people’s voices in noisy environments
- A blocked feeling in your ears
- Feeling unusually tired after a party or social gathering.
Hearing loss means it requires more mental energy to be part of a conversation, as you have to concentrate more than someone without a hearing loss to follow a conversation. This can lead to people with a hearing loss withdrawing from social events and becoming socially isolated.
People with chronic stress are also more likely to develop a hearing loss and bothersome tinnitus. When you are going through a period of acute stress, your body diverts oxygen from your brain to your muscles enabling you to react quickly if needed. Usually, everything returns to normal once this period has passed. Chronic stress, however, can lead to a reduction of oxygen to your inner ear, which can damage these structures over time.
Almost all people experience tinnitus at some point in their lives. For about 20% of people, this tinnitus becomes bothersome. This is usually because of limbic system activation, the part of your brain that regulates your emotions. Chronic or acute stress can exacerbate tinnitus.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to depression. Some studies have also linked hearing loss to dementia and Alzheimer’s. That’s why it’s very important to do all you can to prevent hearing loss in the first place, but also to detect hearing loss as soon as possible. Take a free online hearing test on the Lexie Hearing website.