Could Caffeine Help to Reduce the Risk of Hearing Loss?

Throughout his career, audiologist Kenneth A. Podlenski has stayed current with the latest studies and reports on hearing loss and the delicate mechanisms of the human ear. The science of hearing is continually evolving, and Dr. Podlenski feels he is best able to serve the patients of his San Diego audiology practice by remaining at the vanguard of this ever growing body of knowledge. While there is still much about hearing loss to be learned, we know more now than ever before.

As our knowledge expands, we are starting to question and discard some of the assumptions we long accepted to be truths. For instance, it was long believed by many members of the scientific community that there was a link between caffeine intake and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. However, a 2014 hearing loss study published by the University of Western Ontario not only calls this idea into question, but also presents compelling evidence that caffeine could lower the risk of hearing loss later in life.

Debunking a Long-held Myth

In “A prospective study of caffeine intake and risk of incident tinnitus,” study authors Jorden T. Glicksman, MD, Sharon G. Curhan, MD, and Gary C. Curhan, MD present evidence to debunk the long-held myth that consistent consumption of caffeine can contribute to the development of tinnitus. Indeed, they discovered that there was a lower risk of tinnitus among study participants with a higher caffeine intake than among those without.

Although the study participants were primarily Caucasian women, Dr. Glicksman, lead author of the study, feels that the results could apply both to men and other racial groups.

“I can’t think of a good reason why the association would be different,” he stated.

According to the study, women who consumed between 450 and 599 milligrams of caffeine a day – from coffee, soda, tea, chocolate, and other sources – were 15 percent less likely to experience hearing loss than those who consumed less than 450 milligrams of caffeine a day.  Those who consumed greater than 600 milligrams of caffeine a day were 21 percent likely to develop hearing loss.

The hearing loss study tracked more than 65,085 women between the ages of 30 and 44 over an 18 year span. Of these study participants, 5,289 developed tinnitus during the study period.

Dr. Glicksman was careful to point out that no definitive link can be made between caffeine and hearing loss based only on the results of this study. “We can’t conclude that caffeine is a cure for tinnitus,” he said.

Nevertheless, the association is compelling and could lead to further research into possible benefits of caffeine in the treatment of hearing loss.

“What I think is most interesting is our study seems to dispel a longstanding medical belief that caffeine causes or exacerbates tinnitus,” stated Dr. Glicksman.

How does this hearing loss study apply to your life?

Does this mean that you should start drinking more coffee in order to protect your hearing or try to avoid tinnitus?  Not necessarily.  It is important that you wear hearing protection when you are in noisy environments such as concerts and that you avoid prolonged exposure to loud noise. It is also important that you have your hearing tested regularly.

Still, studies like the University of Western Ontario hearing loss study are leading us ever closer to a better understanding of how the ear works and how hearing loss might be treated.

In the meanwhile, we encourage you to schedule a comprehensive hearing test at our hearing aid center in San Diego today. The best way to preserve your hearing is to be proactive in protecting it. Dr. Kenneth A. Podlenski would welcome the opportunity to partner with you in that task.

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Brian Vargo

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