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 (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only somewhat accurate. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. Actually, they were mainly only used for one thing: creating hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (you will frequently note some of these health issues right away when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This is not new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it may 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 your hearing health. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Naturally, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not surprising that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
The word ototoxic may sound daunting, but it simply indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are little hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t really enjoy being starved of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t functioning efficiently when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
You might begin to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
These symptoms, thankfully, are usually not lasting when caused by alcohol. Your tinnitus will usually go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And it may become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. 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 often.
A couple of other things are happening too
It isn’t only the booze, of course. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. 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 noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more significant tinnitus symptoms.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and risky) mix for your hearing.
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 issue. So you could be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.