Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the entire reality. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed introduce apples to lots of 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 mainly only used for one thing: producing hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not only in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). But many people like to get a buzz.
This isn’t a new thing. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking causes tinnitus. That’s not really that difficult to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
The spins will happen 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? Obviously, your ability to hear. So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
The word ototoxic might sound daunting, but it simply indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. The entire auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
There are several ways that this plays out in practice:
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning effectively (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
You might start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. Your tinnitus will usually go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated routinely, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s completely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.
Some other things are happening too
It’s not only the alcohol, however. The bar scene isn’t hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a bit too much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) 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 advocating. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. You should consult your doctor about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.