Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that’s not the whole truth. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact bring apples to many states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples were really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (and not only in the long term, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). But many individuals like to get a buzz.
This isn’t a new thing. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a bit too much, you may have encountered something known as “the spins”. That’s where 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 responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? 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.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound
The word ototoxic might sound intimidating, but it simply indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. The entire auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
- 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 enjoy being starved of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that deal with hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning efficiently (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are related to alcohol intake) are normally temporary. Your tinnitus will usually clear up 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 if this kind of damage is repeated routinely, it could become permanent. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly happen.
Here are some other things that are happening
It’s not just the booze, of course. The bar scene isn’t hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, loud. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or more it can be a bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other problems: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Obviously, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. The root issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.