Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only somewhat true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to lots of states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as modern apples. Actually, they were mainly only utilized for one thing: making hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not only in the long term, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically like feeling intoxicated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. People have been imbibing since, well, the dawn of recorded history. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol intake could be generating 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, also.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you may have experienced 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 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 hearing. So if alcohol can produce the spins, it isn’t hard to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that damages the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
There are a few ways that this plays out in practice:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning efficiently (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of 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). These little hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having 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 usually short-term. Your tinnitus will typically go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And if this kind of damage is repeated routinely, it may become permanent. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Some other things are occurring too
Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, loud. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.