Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that isn’t the entire truth. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed bring apples to lots of states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. In fact, they were generally only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans generally like feeling inebriated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded history. But it may be possible that your hearing issues are being worsened by drinking alcohol.
Put simply, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the cocktails.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.
The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.
And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it isn’t difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, 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.
There are a few ways that this plays out in practice:
- Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning effectively (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.
These symptoms, fortunately, are normally not lasting when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.
Of course, 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 happening repeatedly. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Some other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than just the liquor. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: Bars are normally pretty loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.
The point is, there are significant risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
Does that mean it’s time to 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 socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking, you could be causing significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. You should talk to your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
For now, if you drink heavily and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.