Do you recall the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only somewhat accurate. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. In truth, they were generally only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every community he visited.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. It isn’t good for your health to begin with (you will often experience some of these health issues right away when you feel hungover). Conversely, humans typically like feeling inebriated.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. People have been drinking since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing issues are being increased by alcohol consumption.
Put simply, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the drinks.
Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol
The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you might have experienced something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
The spins will manifest 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 play a part in? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not a surprise that you might have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance
Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that damages the auditory system. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This alone can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working effectively (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are fragile hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always permanent
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 brought on by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated consistently, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
Here are a couple of other things that are happening
It isn’t only the booze, however. The bar scene is not hospitable for your ears for other reasons also.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Alcohol abuse can result in health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health issues could be the outcome.
- Noise: Bars are normally rather noisy. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. All of that loudness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
So should you quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re advocating. The root issue is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. You should consult your doctor about how you can get treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it might be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.