Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t 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 very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Making hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited received the gift of booze.
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 impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.
This isn’t a new thing. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking causes tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you might have encountered something called “the spins”. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly when you close your eyes).
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear good for? 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.
Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that impairs the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
Here are a number of ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t really enjoy being deprived of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. 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 portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
- Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you may notice yourself developing some symptoms.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. Your tinnitus will usually go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back 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 type of damage is repeated regularly, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s completely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.
A couple of other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. The bar scene is not hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Alcohol leads to 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 outcome of alcohol abuse. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.
- Noise: The first is that bars tend to be, well, noisy. 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 too much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
The point is, there are serious hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not suggesting that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So you may be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. You should consult your doctor about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
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.