Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale 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 accurate. Around 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 really different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Actually, they were mostly only used for one thing: making hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every community he visited.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically like feeling inebriated.
This is not new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol use could be producing or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you might have experienced something called “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 manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear good for? Naturally, your ability to hear. So if alcohol can cause the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus
The word ototoxic may sound scary, 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.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning efficiently (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are affected).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these are fragile hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later converts into sound). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent
You may begin 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 brought on by alcohol intake) are usually 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 type of damage is repeated routinely, it may become permanent. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are some other things that are taking place
Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. 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 problems: Even if you put the hearing loss element 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 issues can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.
So should you quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. You should talk to your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.