Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that’s not the entire truth. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed bring apples to lots of states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. In truth, they were mostly only used for one thing: making hard cider.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will frequently experience some of these health symptoms immediately when you feel hungover). Conversely, humans typically like feeling inebriated.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Simply put, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, also.
Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).
The spins will occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear good for? Naturally, your hearing. So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy word for something that impairs the auditory system. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are affected).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those delicate hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are usually not lasting when caused by alcohol. Your tinnitus will typically clear up 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 last. And if this kind of damage is repeated consistently, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are a couple of other things that are happening
It isn’t only the alcohol, of course. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the outcome.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a potent (and risky) mix for your ears.
So should you quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not implying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. The root issue is the alcohol itself. So you may be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. You should talk to your physician about how you can seek treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.