Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the US, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he visited (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partly accurate. 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. Making hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). On the other hand, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t a new thing. People have been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But if you have hearing issues, 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 the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed 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).
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Naturally, your hearing. 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
The word ototoxic might sound intimidating, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these are tiny hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). Once those tiny hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t really enjoy being starved of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
You may begin to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, luckily, are generally 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 last. And it may become permanent if this type of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. 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.
A couple of other things are happening too
It’s not just 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 are usually, well, loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets 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 contribute to more significant tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and risky) mix for your hearing.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not implying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source of the problem. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. You should speak with your physician about how you can seek treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.