Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that isn’t the whole truth. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as they are now. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many individuals like to get a buzz.
This is not new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually confirm. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can produce the spins, it isn’t difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that harms the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly enjoy being deprived of blood).
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning efficiently when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are tiny hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no repairing them.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You may start 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 caused by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. Your tinnitus will usually go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And it could become permanent if this type of damage keeps happening repeatedly. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are some other things that are happening
It’s not just the alcohol, of course. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health issues could be the outcome.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
The point is, there are significant hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
So should you stop drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re recommending. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it might be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.