Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he visited (you should eat apples because they are a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partially true. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to lots of states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. In truth, they were mainly only utilized for one thing: creating 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 run, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). On the other hand, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol consumption could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking causes tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you might have encountered something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems 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 in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Obviously, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause 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, basically everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are affected).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these fragile 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 compromised.
- Alcohol can reduce blood flow to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t really like being starved of blood).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are usually short-term. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to go back to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated regularly, it could 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 occurring too
Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: Bars are typically pretty noisy. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit too much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to 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 outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are significant hazards 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 alone is not at all what we’re advocating. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the root of the issue. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.