Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the whole reality. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to many states across the country around the end of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. It’s not good for your health to begin with (and not only in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. 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 danger to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to accept. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).
The spins will occur 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 had the spins, it isn’t a surprise 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 an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that damages the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
There are a few ways that this plays out in practice:
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can reduce blood flow to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t really enjoy being starved of blood).
- 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 (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are normally short-term. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll most likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And it may become permanent if this type of damage keeps happening repeatedly. 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.
Here are some other things that are taking place
It’s not only the booze, however. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more unfriendly to your ears.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the outcome.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
So should you stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not implying that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the problem. So you may be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.