Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that’s not the entire truth. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as modern apples. In fact, they were mostly only used for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every community he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. It’s not good for your health to start with (and not just in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans generally enjoy feeling inebriated.
This isn’t new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually verify. That’s not really that difficult to accept. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “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 other function does your inner ear take a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can cause the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also create ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that damages the auditory system. This involves 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:
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning efficiently (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of hearing).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
Of course, 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 consistently, it could become permanent. 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.
Some other things are happening too
It isn’t only the booze, however. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
- Noise: Bars are typically rather loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. 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 quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not suggesting that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So you may be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. 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 may be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.