Do you recall the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partly true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed bring apples to lots of states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples were really different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. It’s not good for your health to start with (and not just in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This is not a new thing. People have been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol intake could be producing or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to your hearing health. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically validate. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).
The spins will happen 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? Obviously, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t a surprise that you might have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
The word ototoxic may sound scary, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working effectively (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these are tiny hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). Once those delicate hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to 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, luckily, are usually not lasting when caused by alcohol. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to go back to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated regularly, it may become permanent. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Some other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene is not hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are typically pretty noisy. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a bit much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re advocating. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. 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.