Do you recall the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).
Actually, that isn’t the entire reality. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed bring apples to lots of states across the country around the end of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or yummy. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not just in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.
This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.
Put simply, it’s not only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking triggers tinnitus
The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That isn’t really that difficult to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. 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 occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear good for? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t a surprise 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 might sound intimidating, but it simply indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are several ways that this occurs in practice:
- The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning efficiently (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary
You might begin to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having some drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are related to alcohol intake) are normally short-term. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will wane.
But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And it may become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly happen.
Some other things are happening too
Of course, it’s more than simply the booze. The bar scene isn’t hospitable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
- Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a potent (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
So should you quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.