Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the US, 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’s not the entire reality. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as modern apples. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start with (you will frequently note some of these health issues immediately when you feel hungover). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.
This isn’t a new thing. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol intake could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Simply put, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually verify. That isn’t really that hard to accept. 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 (particularly with your eyes closed).
The spins will manifest 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? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can cause the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound scary, but it simply indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. The entire auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- 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 functioning efficiently (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been compromised.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You might start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are usually short-term. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll 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 permanent if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.
Here are some other things that are taking place
It isn’t just the alcohol, of course. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. All of that noisiness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So you may be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.