Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
That’s only partly accurate. 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 were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. In fact, they were generally only used for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (you will frequently experience some of these health symptoms right away when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans generally enjoy feeling inebriated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be producing or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking causes tinnitus. That’s not 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).
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise 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 an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really 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 several ways that this plays out in practice:
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are tiny hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been compromised.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly like being deprived of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that deal with hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working correctly (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
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 caused by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And it may become permanent if this type of damage keeps happening continually. 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 occurring too
It isn’t only the booze, however. The bar scene is not hospitable 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 bit too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people yelling, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not implying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating major problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it might be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.