Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that’s not the entire truth. At 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 were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. In fact, they were mainly only utilized for one thing: producing hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This isn’t a new thing. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to your hearing health. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit 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 when you close your eyes).
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Naturally, 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.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
The word ototoxic may sound scary, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those tiny hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
- 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 especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
- 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 correctly (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
You might start to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, luckily, are usually not permanent when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to go back to normal. And it could become irreversible if this type of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly happen.
Some other things are happening too
It’s not only the alcohol, of course. The bar scene isn’t hospitable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can result in health issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are typically rather noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a bit too much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
The point is, there are serious risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be creating major 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 may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.