Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the entire truth. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed introduce apples to many states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. In fact, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). On the other hand, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t a new thing. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol use could be producing 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, also.
Drinking causes tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly 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! So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also create ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that harms the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are affected).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t especially enjoy being starved of blood).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by 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, fortunately, are normally not lasting when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And it could become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps happening repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Here are some other things that are happening
It isn’t just the booze, however. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather noisy. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
The point is, there are significant hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not implying that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source of the problem. So you may be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. You should talk to your doctor about how you can seek treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.