Caffeine and Noise Exposure

Marshall Chasin
September 27, 2016

I love my morning coffee. And my afternoon coffee. Also, my evening coffee.  I am not sure how much I drink every day because I usually buy a cup of coffee, take several sips, and then get busy. I may come back to a half full cup of cold coffee several hours later, or not. Although I am not a coffee fanatic, I admit to having one of those gold colored, personalized coffee cards from Starbucks.

An April 2016 article published in the the American Medical Association’s Otolaryngology journal had the telling title, “Association of Caffeine and Hearing Recovery After Acoustic Overstimulation Events in a Guinea Pig Model”.

In this article, guinea pigs were divided into three groups. Group 1 was allowed to just have their coffee; group 2 didn’t get to have their morning coffee but were exposed to high levels of noise; and group 3 got their coffee and were also exposed to high levels of noise.  Of course, the caffeine levels were well controlled as were the noise exposures.

The bottom line is that threshold shifts as measured with ABR were greater for the group that had their caffeine and the noise exposure, than the group with just the noise exposure. Scanning light and electron microscopy were performed on the cochlea after the experiment and hair cell degeneration was consistent with the ABR shifts that were observed.

This study is only scratching the surface; we don’t really understand why caffeine impaired the recovery of hearing thresholds after intense noise exposure, but it is one more part of the puzzle. We do know that the cochlea and associated structures are complex organs with biochemical routes and processes that we are just now starting to understand. And I suppose that although the guinea pig model is quite good, it is only a model, and in the study, female albino guinea pigs were used, and not male, so could this be one more complicating factor?

Until we know more, it would be prudent to not to visit your local coffee shop before going to a concert. It may be fine to drink coffee after the concert but even then we are not sure what is happening.


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