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My Wine, My Hearing Loss: The Relationship

The following article was adapted by Amy Matthews, staff writer, from a post written by Gael Hannan on her blog at HearingHealthMatters.org. Her original posted here.

With the holiday season at its close, and Universities going back to school, it’s time to reflect upon the all the parties that were attended by all, and the drinking that was involved. In her article, Gael Hannan reflects upon the relationship between alcohol and hearing loss.

While most people love to have a drink during friendly gatherings with family and loved ones, Hannan reflects that wine, in particular, is her favorite. She loves the way it looks in a tall glass, the way it tastes, and, if those she is surrounded with remember to clink loudly enough, the ringing of celebration as the glasses touch is another favorite of hers. This brings us to our main subject; the relationship between drinking and communication, particularly for those who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The first factor that needs to be addressed is the fact that it is much harder to read the speech of someone who has been drinking. It does not matter how well someone can be heard when they are sober, if alcohol becomes involved, so will slurring, and that makes it much more difficult to read lips, considering the fact that mouths move different when their owners are intoxicated. Despite this obstacle, it can sometimes be easier to actually hear what the person is saying, as people usually speak louder when they have a few drinks in their system. When this occurs, their intoxicated, hard to understand words are given the amplification that they need to make understanding a little easier. On the other hand, Hannan notes that if the person with hearing loss has also been drinking, neither of the above factors matters, for drunk people tend to be able to more easily understand other people who have been drinking. She also makes note of the fact that, anyone who is hard of hearing and goes to a party with a large crowd of people—her case being one for her son and a large group of his friends—will have extreme difficulty hearing anything comprehensible at all, because of the large volume of voices, and the fact that the majority of the speakers are slurring from drunkenness.

Finally, Hannan notes that, among other things, alcoholism and continual drinking of alcohol can lead to increased hearing loss, caused by the brain shrinking, which can affect auditory pathways. While the majority of the notes she has taken are based upon her own personal experiences as someone who is hard of hearing, this last piece of information is a scientific fact noted by Dr. Elisabeth Stephanie Smith, from the University of Ulm in Germany. It was published in her 2004 study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

“Cocktail deafness”, as Hannan calls it, does not just affect a select few, but rather everyone, whether they are hearing, hard of hearing, or completely deaf. She states that this experience is not only caused by the loud music and positivity that surrounds celebratory parties, but also the fact that there is an actual decrease in hearing that occurs with drinking alcohol. She states, “In a 2007 study on alcohol-induced hearing loss, the British researcher Tahwinder Upile studied 30 lucky participants whose job was to drink shot after shot of alcohol while having their hearing tested a few times over a few frequencies. The results showed that alcohol specifically blunts lower frequencies, especially at the 1000-Hz level, the most crucial frequency for speech discrimination” , . It was also found that the older the subjects were, the more likely they were to experience an increase in hearing loss while drinking. As a person’s drunkenness diminished, so too did their hearing loss. When the hangover had finally gone away, hearing returned to its original state.

It’s important to note that alcohol in small amounts has not been found to be hurtful to hearing. Also, it is possible that drinking red wine in small amounts, as Hannan notes in a previously written piece , might actually defend against noise-induced hearing loss because of a compound that is found in red grapes and wine (Grapes will also protect against this). As Hannan is someone who lives with hearing loss, she asks her audience why they would subject themselves to more damage when something as simple as eating a bowl of grapes or sipping on a glass of wine can prevent. So, all in all, don’t feel bad about the drinks you had over the holiday season; there’s nothing wrong with celebrating with your loved ones once in a while, as long as it’s in moderation—it could actually be good for you.

Read more here.

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