Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
That’s only partially true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to lots of states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
In other words, it’s not only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the drinks.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you might have experienced something known as “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! Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise that you may have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound intimidating, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are fragile hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been compromised.
- Alcohol can decrease flow of blood to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t especially like being deprived of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
You might start 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 normally short-term. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And if this kind of damage is repeated consistently, it could become permanent. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Some other things are happening too
It’s not just the alcohol, however. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are normally rather noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; 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.
The point is, there are serious risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
In the meantime, 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.