Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might 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 true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to lots of states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as modern apples. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will often notice some of these health issues immediately when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.
This is not new. People have been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being worsened by drinking alcohol.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically verify. That’s not really that hard to accept. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what else is your inner ear good for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise 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 an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy word 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:
- Alcohol can decrease flow of blood to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t especially like being starved of blood).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these are tiny hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). These little hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You may start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
These symptoms, luckily, are usually not permanent 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.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And it may become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
A couple of other things are happening too
Clearly, it’s more than just the booze. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: Bars are typically pretty loud. That’s part of their… uh… charm? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re recommending. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So you may be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. You should talk to your physician about how you can seek treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
In the meantime, 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.