Caffeine at a Concert or at Work Can Hurt Your Hearing

Caffeine at a Concert or at Work Can Hurt Your Hearing
Concerts like this can be loud enough to cause hearing impairment. Flickr.com/Funky Tee.

During a loud concert or a day at the construction site, a cup of coffee or an energy drink can give you just the boost you need to keep going. However, some scientists are warning that caffeine combined with exposure to loud noise may not be a good idea as it puts your hearing at risk.

The study comes from otolaryngologist Dr. Faisal Zawawi and other researchers at the McGill Auditory Sciences Laboratory at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-HUHC) in Montreal, Canada. The researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Since drinking coffee is common in noisy environments, the researchers set out to discover if the combination of caffeine and noise could have a detrimental effect on hearing.

To determine the relationship between caffeine and hearing loss, the researchers recruited twenty-four guinea pigs. The researchers split the rodents into three different groups of eight each: one group received caffeine, one group experienced loud noise, and one group received caffeine and experienced loud noise at 110 dB, similar to a typical rock concert. Coffee involved daily doses for fifteen days while sound involved an hour of loud sound on days one and eight of the study. The researchers measured each guinea pig’s brain response to sound before and during the study then examined the ears for damage at the end of the study.

As anyone who has ever attended a music concert or worked in construction or a factory may know, exposure to loud noise can result in temporary hearing reduction. This is called auditory temporary threshold shift. Although these hearing problems usually resolve within the next three days or so, sometimes symptoms persist and the hearing damage becomes permanent.

All three groups of guinea pigs suffered similar hearing loss the day after they were exposed to loud noise. Eight days later, the guinea pigs who did not have any caffeine had almost completely recovered their hearing. However, the guinea pigs with the caffeine did not fare so well. Even eight days after exposure to the loud noise, the guinea pigs who had caffeine were still suffering from some hearing impairment. With symptoms lasting that long, there is a good chance the hearing impairment will be permanent.

Although the research involved guinea pigs, the researchers believe the effect may be similar in humans. More research would be needed to determine if combining caffeine and loud noise is detrimental for human hearing, and at what level. However, the current research suggests people should exercise caution when combining an energy drink with a concert or a cup of coffee with a noisy work environment.

Caffeine consumption is common in North America, with about 80 percent of adults consuming plenty of coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks regularly. Combining this habit with loud work environments, such as construction sites or factories, or with leisure activities such as attending concerts, could potentially contribute to long-term hearing problems. Although health experts recommend a maximum of three eight ounce cups of coffee per day, many people exceed this amount regularly. Energy drinks, popular among young adults and teenagers, have more than 200 mg of caffeine each, a huge caffeine boost for the day.

Experts believe people are losing their hearing much younger now than a generation or two ago, and many blame the increased use of earbuds and headphones with personal music players. Other loud noises, like televisions, video games, movie theaters, traffic, appliances, and loud work environments can also cause noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). This permanent hearing impairment may affect one in ten people, making it difficult for them to understand what others are saying in everyday conversation. Many people will experience permanent ringing in their ears. The best ways to prevent hearing loss include wearing earplugs or other ear protectors and avoiding the loud noise if possible, although the current research suggests avoiding caffeine may be one more precaution you can take to protect your hearing. Plus, be sure your guinea pig kicks his caffeine habit before turning up that stereo.

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