Remember 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 paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they’re good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that isn’t the entire reality. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed introduce apples to many states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. Actually, they were generally only utilized for one thing: producing hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start with (you will frequently notice some of these health issues immediately when you feel hungover). On the other hand, humans typically like feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t 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 likely that your alcohol use could be producing 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.
Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will generally verify. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to accept. You’ve 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 manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also create ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that damages the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working effectively (clearly, 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. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
You might start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
These symptoms, fortunately, are generally 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 decline.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And if this kind of damage is repeated routinely, it may become irreversible. 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 a couple of other things that are happening
It’s not just the alcohol, however. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, loud. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the result.
In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and risky) mix for your hearing.
Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re recommending. The root issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. 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, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.