Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only somewhat accurate. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to lots of states across the country around the end of the 19th century. But apples were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Actually, they were mostly only used for one thing: creating hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. It’s not good for your health to start with (and not only in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). But many people like to get a buzz.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it may be possible that your hearing issues are being worsened by alcohol consumption.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to your hearing health. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually verify. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Obviously, your hearing. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise that you might have also experienced a buzzing or ringing 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 term for something that harms the auditory system. This involves 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 few ways this can play out:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that deal with hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning effectively (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily 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. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll 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 go back to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated routinely, it may become irreversible. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Some other things are occurring too
It’s not only the booze, however. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other aspects of your health. 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 contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
So should you quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not suggesting that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the issue. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant 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 noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.