Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partially true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. In fact, they were mainly only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start with (you will frequently note some of these health issues immediately when you feel hungover). Conversely, humans typically like feeling intoxicated.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol intake 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 also the drinks.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not surprising that you may have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that impairs the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- 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 functioning effectively (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You might begin to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll 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 type of damage is repeated routinely, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.
Some other things are occurring too
It isn’t only the alcohol, of course. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- 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 great; if you’re 40 it’s a little too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and risky) mix for your hearing.
So should you 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 social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking, you could be causing major 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 noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.