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 paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they’re good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partially true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It’s not good for your health to begin with (you will frequently notice some of these health symptoms right away when you feel hungover). But many people like to get a buzz.
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 problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
In other words, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that difficult to believe. You’ve most 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 (especially when you close your eyes).
The spins will happen 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? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not a surprise that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy word for something that harms 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.
There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:
- Alcohol can affect 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 working correctly (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly like being deprived of blood).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are usually not lasting when related to alcohol. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And it could become permanent if this kind of damage keeps occurring 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.
Some other things are happening too
It’s not only the alcohol, of course. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the outcome.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a potent (and risky) mix for your hearing.
So should you quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking alone is not at all what we’re recommending. The root issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be causing significant issues for yourself, and for your hearing. You should speak with your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.