Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing 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 reality. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed introduce apples to many states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as modern apples. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start with (and not only in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). But many individuals like to get a buzz.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to your hearing health. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Obviously, your hearing. Which means that if you’ve had 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 compound
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that harms the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
There are several ways that this plays out in practice:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t really like being deprived of blood).
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning efficiently when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are fragile hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no repairing them.
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are usually temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, thankfully, are normally not lasting when caused by alcohol. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated routinely, it may become permanent. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
A couple of other things are happening too
It’s not only the booze, of course. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the problem. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your doctor 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.