Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that’s not the whole truth. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as they are now. In fact, they were mainly only used for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not only in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to your hearing health. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually verify. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you might have encountered something known as “the spins”. 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 else is your inner ear good for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not surprising that you may have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term 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.
There are several ways that this plays out in practice:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are tiny hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
You might start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely start 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 may become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Here are a couple of other things that are taking place
Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more unfriendly to your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more significant tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are usually pretty loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
The point is, there are serious risks 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 solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So you could be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. You should speak with 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.