Do you recollect the old tale about 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 paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
That’s only somewhat accurate. 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 weren’t as yummy and sweet as modern apples. Actually, they were mainly only used for one thing: making hard cider.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. It’s not good for your health to start with (you will frequently notice some of these health problems immediately when you feel hungover). But many people 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 problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will generally verify. That’s not really that difficult to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you might have experienced something known as “the spins”. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly when you close your eyes).
The spins will occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Obviously, your hearing. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it isn’t a surprise that you may have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound scary, but it just indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t especially like being starved of blood).
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You may begin to detect 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 caused by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most likely begin 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 return to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated consistently, it may 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.
A couple of other things are happening too
Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the result.
The point is, there are significant hazards 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. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.