Do you recall the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated 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).
That’s only somewhat true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact bring apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
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 start with (you will often experience 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 humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it may be possible that your hearing problems are being worsened by drinking alcohol.
Put simply, it isn’t just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically validate. That’s not really that hard to accept. If you’ve ever partaken of a bit too much, you may have encountered something known as “the spins”. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially with your eyes closed).
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what other role does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that impairs the auditory system. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working efficiently (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly enjoy being deprived of blood).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been compromised.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus isn’t always long-term
You might begin to notice 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 normally short-term. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
Naturally, 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 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 often.
A couple of other things are happening too
It’s not only the alcohol, of course. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: 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 all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, 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 plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. Your hearing can be compromised 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 quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking alone is not at all what we’re recommending. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the problem. So you could be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. You should consult your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.