Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the whole truth. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to lots of states across the country around the end of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Actually, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: producing hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to was gifted with booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (you will frequently note some of these health problems right away when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Simply put, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the drinks.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually confirm. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially with your eyes closed).
The spins will occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other role does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not a surprise 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 an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy term for something that harms 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:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting 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 usually short-term. Your tinnitus will usually go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
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 occurring repeatedly. In other words, it’s completely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are a couple of other things that are taking place
Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also detrimental to other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.
The point is, there are serious risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. You should talk to your doctor about how you can seek treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
For now, if you drink heavily and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.