Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partly accurate. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Actually, they were generally only used for one thing: producing hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. 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 immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This is not 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 generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to your hearing health. It’s the beer, also.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically verify. That’s not really that hard to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you may 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).
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it isn’t difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
The word ototoxic might sound daunting, 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 connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are a few ways that this plays out in practice:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these are fragile hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). Once those tiny hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are usually temporary
You may 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 caused by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And it could become irreversible if this type of damage keeps happening repeatedly. 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 frequently.
A couple of other things are happening too
It isn’t just the alcohol, of course. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, loud. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a potent (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking alone is not at all what we’re advocating. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you may be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. Your provider 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.