Do you recall the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partially true. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. 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 immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically like feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t a new thing. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it may be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
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
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what else is your inner ear good for? Naturally, your hearing. Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t surprising that you might have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that damages the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this plays out in practice:
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working efficiently (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, 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 having some drinks with some friends, you may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are normally not permanent when related to alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back 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 persist. And it may become irreversible if this type of damage keeps occurring continually. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are some other things that are taking place
Clearly, it’s more than simply the booze. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Noise: Bars are normally rather noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: 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 all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more significant tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a potent (and risky) mix for your ears.
So should you quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re recommending. The underlying problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major issues for yourself, and for your hearing. You should speak with your doctor about how you can seek treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.