Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partly true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to lots of states across the country at about the end of the 19th century. But apples were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It’s not good for your health to start with (you will frequently note some of these health issues immediately when you feel hungover). On the other hand, humans typically like feeling intoxicated.
This is not new. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol use could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it isn’t just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually confirm. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
When alcohol disturbs 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 had the spins, it’s not surprising that you may have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that harms the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can decrease flow of blood to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always permanent
You might start to detect 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 usually short-term. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And it could become permanent if this type of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.
A couple of other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. The bar scene is not hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: Bars are normally pretty noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Drinking is also detrimental to other aspects of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
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 stop 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 if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major issues for yourself, and for your hearing. You should talk to your physician about how you can seek treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.