Remember 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 paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that’s not the whole truth. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every community he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans generally enjoy feeling intoxicated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being worsened by alcohol consumption.
Put simply, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking causes tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you may have encountered something called “the spins”. That’s where 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 in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
The word ototoxic might sound scary, but it just indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are a few ways that this occurs 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 correctly (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; 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. This by 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 compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those tiny hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always permanent
You might start to notice 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 typically short-term. Your tinnitus will usually clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to go back to normal. And it could become permanent if this kind of damage keeps happening 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 often.
A couple of other things are occurring too
It’s not only the alcohol, of course. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather noisy. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and risky) mix for your hearing.
So should you stop drinking?
Of course, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source 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.
If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.