Do you recall the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only somewhat accurate. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed bring apples to many states across the country around the end of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as they are now. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to begin 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). But many individuals like to get a buzz.
This is not new. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
Simply put, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically validate. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a bit too much, you may have encountered something called “the spins”. 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 in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can produce the spins, it’s not hard to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that impairs the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This in itself 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 harmed by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working correctly (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent
You might begin to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
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 most likely begin 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 return to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated consistently, it could become permanent. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Some other things are occurring too
It’s not just the alcohol, however. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: Bars are usually pretty noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a bit much. There’s much fun and merriment, people yelling, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can result in health issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health issues could be the outcome.
The point is, there are significant hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking alone is not at all what we’re advocating. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So you may be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
For now, 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.