Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that’s not the whole reality. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. In fact, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: producing hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering 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 immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.
This isn’t new. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to accept. You’ve likely 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 known as “the spins”.
The spins will occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other function does your inner ear take a part in? Obviously, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not surprising that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound daunting, but it simply indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those delicate hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working effectively (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
- 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 deprived of blood).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
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, luckily, are usually 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 return to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated consistently, it could become permanent. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly happen.
Some other things are happening too
Clearly, it’s more than simply the liquor. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even when 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 issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
Does that mean it’s time to stop 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 you may be doing substantial harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. 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, make an appointment with us for a consultation.