Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled 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 partly true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to was gifted with booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. It’s not good for your health to start with (and not just in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.
This isn’t a new thing. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded history. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.
In other words, it isn’t just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
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 most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what other role does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound
The word ototoxic might sound daunting, but it simply indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically 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 damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These little hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t especially enjoy being starved of blood).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent
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.
These symptoms, thankfully, are generally not permanent when related to alcohol. Your tinnitus will typically go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And it could become permanent if this kind of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Here are a couple of other things that are taking place
It’s not only the alcohol, however. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Obviously, we’re not saying that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.
In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.