Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partly true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. In truth, they were mainly only used for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (you will frequently notice some of these health symptoms right away when you feel hungover). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. People have been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely 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, too.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking causes tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you might have encountered something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “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! So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
The word ototoxic might sound daunting, but it just indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- 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 particularly like being deprived of blood).
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working efficiently (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are affected).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are little hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no repairing them.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are generally not lasting when related to alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
Of course, 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 routinely, it may become irreversible. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.
Here are a couple of other things that are taking place
Of course, it’s more than just the liquor. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: Bars are usually pretty loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss factor 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 problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and risky) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to stop 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 problem. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be creating significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your doctor 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.