Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (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 many parts of the United States. But apples were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited received the gift of booze.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (you will frequently notice some of these health problems immediately when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you might have encountered something known as “the spins”. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).
When alcohol disturbs 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! Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound scary, but it simply indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
There are several ways that this plays out in practice:
- Alcohol can reduce blood flow to your inner ear. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are tiny hairs that allow you to 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.
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged 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).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You may start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, thankfully, are normally not lasting when related to alcohol. 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 go back to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated consistently, it may become permanent. In other words, it’s completely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Some other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than simply the booze. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Drinking is also bad for other facets of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- 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 too much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
So should you quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So you may be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.