Remember 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 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).
That’s only somewhat true. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every community he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not just in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). On the other hand, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t a new thing. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it isn’t just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to accept. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you may have encountered something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
The spins will occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other role does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t a surprise that you may have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound intimidating, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. 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 damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are affected).
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus isn’t necessarily permanent
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are usually short-term. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And if this type of damage is repeated consistently, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s entirely 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 just the alcohol, however. The bar scene isn’t hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather noisy. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
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 quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re recommending. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So you could be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. You should talk to your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.