Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he migrated 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 partly accurate. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not only in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many individuals like to get a buzz.
This isn’t new. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be producing or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to your hearing health. It’s the beer, also.
Drinking causes tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That’s not really that difficult to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it isn’t difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that impairs the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can impact 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 efficiently (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of hearing).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always permanent
You might start to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, luckily, are generally not lasting when related to alcohol. Your tinnitus will usually clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
Of course, 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. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Some other things are happening too
It isn’t just the alcohol, however. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: Bars are typically pretty loud. 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 loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also detrimental to other aspects of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the outcome.
Simply put, the mix 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 alone is not at all what we’re recommending. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. Your doctor 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, make an appointment with us for a consultation.