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 healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partially accurate. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. In fact, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: making hard cider.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (you will often experience some of these health problems right away when you feel hungover). But many people like to get a buzz.
This isn’t new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being increased by alcohol consumption.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, also.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you may have experienced something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t 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
The word ototoxic may sound daunting, 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 links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly enjoy being deprived of blood).
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working effectively (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are fragile hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are compromised, there’s no repairing them.
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
You may begin to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
These symptoms, fortunately, are normally not lasting when related to alcohol. Your tinnitus will usually go away 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 return to normal. And it could become permanent if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Some other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, loud. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or more it can be a bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. 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 extreme tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and risky) mix for your ears.
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 advocating. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be causing significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. You should speak with your doctor about how you can seek treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.