Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that isn’t the whole truth. Around 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 weren’t as yummy and sweet as modern apples. Actually, they were mainly only used for one thing: making hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will often experience some of these health symptoms immediately when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans typically enjoy feeling intoxicated.
This is not new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
Simply put, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the drinks.
Drinking causes tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you may have experienced something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels 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 responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Obviously, your hearing. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it isn’t surprising 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 might sound intimidating, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. 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 damage the stereocilia in your ears (these are little hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly like being starved of blood).
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always permanent
You may start 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 brought on by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. Your tinnitus will usually clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns 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 kind of damage is repeated routinely, it may become irreversible. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
A couple of other things are occurring too
Clearly, it’s more than simply the liquor. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. 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 significant tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people yelling, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
The point is, there are serious risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.