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Reasons for Hearing Loss: Drinking Alcohol

Ever notice that when youre at a social gathering, private home or down at the neighborhood watering hole, and you're designated the designated driver (Yes, Ill have a cranberry spritzer. I have to drive this crew home later.), just how loud everyone talks. And as the libations flow freely, the sound just gets louder and louder and LOUDER!

Well, you might think that its the tequila shooters loosening up the party-goers that brings that volume to such high levels and thats part of it. But its not just high spirits that pumps up the volume. Drinking alcohol lessens your ability to hear.

Whatd ya say?

Reasons for Hearing Loss
Bottoms up may cause hearing to bottom out

True story. British researchers at the University College of London Hospitals, lead by Tahwinder Upile, studied a group of 30 healthy adults, tested their hearing levels sober and as they consumed alcohol and discovered that as the subjects drank, their hearing became less acute.

According to Upiles report, he and his associates rounded up healthy adults between 20 and 40 years of age. All test subjects were free of any history of long-term alcohol abuse and the test was administered in a research lab, not the pub down the street (which seems unnecessarily rigid in adherence to the scientific method but science marches on). Oh, and all test subjects were volunteers, though theres no indication in the report just how much convincing was required to get folks to enjoy a few brews under the fluorescent glare of laboratory lights. Sounds like it might be good for giggles.

Testing took place using a breath analyzer and standard hearing testing methodologies. Test subjects consumed alcohol, were tested for alcohol levels in the blood stream and given a hearing test at various stages of well, for lack of a better word, drunkenness. The more intoxicated the imbibers got, the less they could hear. No wonder busy bars are so loud at 1:00AM. Most of the patrons are blitzed on Jgermeister and cant hear themselves talk!

Got the picture? A group of researchers in starched white lab coats, clipboards in hand, track the antics of 30 adults matching each other shot for shot. Interesting. Must have been fun.

Hey, turn up the bass, will ya?

Other results of the study: older volunteers were affected more by the alcohol than younger test subjects.

Another finding? Greater loss of hearing in the lower ranges of sound the thumping base line range of sound. More importantly, hearing these lower frequencies is essential to hearing and understanding vowels in speech. So, the loss of low-frequency hearing caused by drinking alcohol diminishes the drinkers ability to fully understand speech regardless of how loud the band.

It certainly explains the importance of more bass on the dance floor. Revelers cant hear it clearly so they have to feel it viscerally.

Do I have to stop drinking wine at dinner?

If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, please continue the practice. Wine particularly red wine, has been found to actually improve health when sipped in moderation. A glass or two. No more.

Fortunately, Upiles report from the University College of London Hospitals showed that the hearing loss was temporary and hearing returned to normal quickly. However, the question remains: why does alcohol affect the ability to hear?

Two schools of thought, here. First, some researchers believe that alcohol actually impairs the complex hearing mechanisms of the inner ear the cochlea and the tiny little hair cells that stimulate the auditory nerve. The other school of thought is that alcohol impairs the brains ability to process sound. As the song says, Your lips move but I cant hear what youre saying. (The Wall, Pink Floyd).

In either case, the condition known in scientific circles as Cocktail Deafness is no longer supported by anecdotal evidence alone. Sure, we all know the party gets louder as the evening wears on.

Now theres a reason why. Bottoms up.

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