Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partially accurate. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. In fact, they were mostly only used for one thing: producing hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans generally enjoy feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t a new thing. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But it may be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
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 caused by alcohol
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually validate. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you may have encountered something known as “the spins”. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it isn’t a surprise that you may have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word 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:
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t really enjoy being starved of blood).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (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 damaged, there’s no coming back.
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are usually temporary
You might begin to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, luckily, are normally not lasting when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And it could become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Here are a couple of other things that are happening
Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more unfriendly to your ears.
- 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 outcome of alcohol abuse. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the result.
- Noise: Bars are typically rather loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (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. The underlying problem is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.