Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
That’s only partly true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring 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: making hard cider.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was providing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start with (and not just in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). On the other hand, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.
This isn’t a new thing. People have been imbibing since, well, the dawn of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing issues are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically validate. 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. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly when you close your eyes).
The spins will happen 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 used for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not surprising that you may have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.
That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound
The word ototoxic may sound daunting, 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 number of ways this can play out:
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been compromised.
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that deal with hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of hearing).
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always permanent
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 related to alcohol intake) are usually short-term. Your tinnitus will typically go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry goes back to normal.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will persist. And it may become permanent if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.
Some other things are happening too
It’s not just the booze, however. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.
- Noise: Bars are typically pretty noisy. Some of their charm 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 noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.
The point is, there are significant hazards to your health and your hearing in these late night bar visits.
So should you quit drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re advocating. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.
For now, if you drink heavily and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.