Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the entire truth. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to many states across the country at about the end of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (and not just 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). Nevertheless, humans generally like feeling inebriated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. People have been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol consumption could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to your hearing health. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will generally confirm. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you might have encountered something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “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 else is your inner ear good for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it isn’t a surprise that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that harms the auditory system. This includes 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:
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning efficiently (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts 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 may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are generally not lasting when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most 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 persist. And it may become permanent if this type of damage keeps happening continually. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Here are a couple of other things that are happening
Clearly, it’s more than just the booze. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are normally rather noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and risky) mix for your hearing.
So should you quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re advocating. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the root of the problem. So you may be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.