Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the entire truth. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed introduce apples to many states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as modern apples. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.
Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited received the gift of booze.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (you will frequently experience some of these health issues right away when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans generally like feeling inebriated.
This isn’t a new thing. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to your hearing health. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking causes tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.
And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can produce the spins, it isn’t difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
The word ototoxic might sound scary, but it simply indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. The entire auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can decrease flow of blood to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (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 compromised.
- 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 working effectively (clearly, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are often 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.
These symptoms, luckily, are usually not permanent when caused by alcohol. Your tinnitus will typically 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 it may become irreversible if this type of damage keeps happening repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
A couple of other things are happening too
It’s not just the alcohol, of course. The bar scene is not 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? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the outcome.
Simply put, the combination 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 quit drinking?
Obviously, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the problem. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.