Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice 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 present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Making hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited received the gift of booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.
This is not a new thing. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
In other words, it isn’t just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to accept. You’ve probably 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 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 play a part in? Naturally, your ability to hear. So if alcohol can bring about 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
The word ototoxic may sound scary, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these are little hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are compromised, there’s no repairing them.
- 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 effectively (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are affected).
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are usually not lasting when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And if this kind of damage is repeated regularly, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s definitely 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
Clearly, it’s more than simply the booze. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.
The point is, there are significant risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not implying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. The underlying problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty 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.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.