Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he visited (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that’s not the entire truth. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to many states across the country at about the end of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. In truth, they were generally only used for one thing: producing hard cider.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. It’s not good for your health to begin with (and not just in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded history. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Simply put, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to believe. 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 when you close your eyes).
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what other function does your inner ear take a part in? Naturally, your hearing. 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.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that harms the auditory system. 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 manage hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these are little hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are often temporary
You may start to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, thankfully, are generally not permanent when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely begin 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 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.
A couple of other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than just the liquor. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: Bars are normally pretty loud. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. All of that noisiness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more significant tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are significant risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.