Do you recall the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he migrated across the US, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partly true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact bring apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will often experience some of these health issues right away when you feel hungover). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This isn’t new. People have been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded history. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol intake could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
In other words, it isn’t 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 typically confirm. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. 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 responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other function does your inner ear take a part in? Naturally, your hearing. Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t surprising that you might have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy word for something that impairs the auditory system. The entire auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning correctly (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t really like being starved of blood).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are often temporary
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, thankfully, are normally not permanent when related to alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to go back to normal. And it could become irreversible if this type of damage keeps happening repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Here are a couple of other things that are taking place
It’s not only the booze, of course. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health issues could be the result.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Obviously, we’re not implying that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the problem. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be causing significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
For now, if you drink heavily and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.