Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he traveled across the United States, 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).
That’s only partially accurate. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to lots of states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as modern apples. Actually, they were generally only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not just in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many individuals like to get a buzz.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it may be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
In other words, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, also.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking causes tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to accept. If you’ve ever partaken of a bit too much, you may have encountered something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
The spins will happen because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Naturally, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not surprising that you may have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that damages the auditory system. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- 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 efficiently (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of hearing).
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. This in itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly like being deprived of blood).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
You may start to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are related to alcohol intake) are typically temporary. Your tinnitus will typically 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 if this kind of damage is repeated consistently, it may become permanent. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Here are a couple of other things that are happening
Of course, it’s more than just the liquor. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: Bars are usually pretty loud. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating major problems for yourself, and for your hearing. You should consult your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
For now, if you drink heavily and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.