Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that’s not the whole reality. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. Actually, they were mostly only used for one thing: making hard cider.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not only 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). Conversely, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This is not new. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Simply put, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that difficult to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you might have experienced something known as “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 happen 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 had the spins, it isn’t surprising that you may have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that harms the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are a few ways that this plays out in practice:
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. 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 are little hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly enjoy being deprived of blood).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are normally not permanent 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.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated regularly, it could become permanent. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
A couple of other things are happening too
It’s not only the booze, of course. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: Bars are normally rather 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 bit too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
In the meantime, 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.