Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the whole truth. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as modern apples. Making hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). Conversely, humans generally enjoy feeling inebriated.
This is not new. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the dawn of recorded history. But it may be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
Put simply, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the drinks.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will generally confirm. That’s not really that difficult to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).
The spins will happen because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other role does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can cause the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that damages the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- Alcohol can reduce blood flow to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly enjoy being starved of blood).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning effectively (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are affected).
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
You may begin to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are related to alcohol intake) are normally temporary. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And it may become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Some other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than just the booze. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: Bars are normally pretty loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
So should you stop drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re advocating. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking, you could be creating major problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.