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Alcohol consumption can damage hearing

  • Researchers believe that alcohol can cause varied damage to different parts of the brain.
  • A new study uses brain currents called brainstem auditory evoked potentials (BAEPs) to examine the effects that cumulative, life-long alcohol consumption may have on hearing.
  • Results show that heavy alcohol consumption can lead to brainstem damage, resulting in hearing degradation.

Although alcohol researchers believe that drinking can cause brain damage, the quantity of alcohol and the length of time needed to accomplish this remain unknown. In the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, scientists in Germany specify the damage that cumulative, life-long alcohol consumption can inflict on central auditory pathways, which is reflected as hearing loss.

"The main problem with identifying alcohol-related brain damage has been to identify those lesions caused by alcohol itself versus those caused by other common alcohol-related factors, such as thiamin deficiency," said Elisabeth Stephanie Smith, a member of the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at the University of Ulm, Germany, and first author of the study.

For example, she said, some alcoholics lose white matter, which can lead to overall brain shrinkage, and may be partially reversible. Alcohol-related damage has also been noted in specific regions of the cerebral cortex hypothalamus and cerebellum, and possibly in the hippocampus, amygdala and locus ceruleus. "Many of the regions that are normal in alcoholics are damaged in those who have developed the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome," she added. "While documented dendritic and synaptic changes in alcoholics, together with receptor and transmitter changes, may explain the functional changes and cognitive deficits that precede more severe structural neuronal changes."

For this study, researchers recruited two groups of males from the University of Ulm: 19 head- and neck-tumour patients, represe
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