Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partly true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to lots of states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. In truth, they were mostly only used for one thing: making hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not just in the long term, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many people like to get a buzz.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. People have been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol consumption could be producing or exacerbating your symptoms.
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 caused by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels 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 in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Naturally, your hearing. So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that harms the auditory system. The entire auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
- 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 (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are often temporary
You may start to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. As your body chemistry returns 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 if this kind of damage is repeated consistently, it may become permanent. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are some other things that are taking place
It isn’t only the booze, of course. The bar scene is not hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Drinking is also bad for other facets of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are typically rather 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 little bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
So should you stop drinking?
Obviously, 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 problem. So you may be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. You should talk to your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.