Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partially accurate. 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 utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will often notice some of these health problems right away when you feel hungover). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
In other words, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually confirm. That isn’t really that difficult to believe. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially 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 good for? Naturally, your hearing. So if alcohol can produce the spins, it isn’t difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound intimidating, but it just indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links 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 reduced by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly enjoy being starved of blood).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are fragile hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often 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.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are normally temporary. As your body chemistry returns 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 routinely, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
A couple of other things are happening too
Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, loud. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
So should you stop drinking?
Obviously, we’re not implying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. The root issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating major problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.