Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
Actually, that isn’t the whole reality. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed visited received the gift of booze.
Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. It’s not good for your health to start with (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, nauseous, or passed out). On the other hand, humans typically like feeling inebriated.
This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being increased by drinking alcohol.
So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will generally verify. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you may have encountered something known as “the spins”. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially with your eyes closed).
The spins will happen because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.
And what else is your inner ear used for? Naturally, your ability to hear. So if alcohol can produce the spins, it’s not hard to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.
Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus
The word ototoxic might sound daunting, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.
There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:
- There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working efficiently (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These little hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been damaged.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term
You may start to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
These symptoms, fortunately, are generally not lasting when related to alcohol. 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 could become permanent if this type of damage keeps happening repeatedly. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
A couple of other things are happening too
Clearly, it’s more than simply the booze. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: Bars are usually rather loud. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? But when you’re 40 or more it can be a little bit much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.
- Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
The point is, there are significant hazards 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 alone in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the source of the problem. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, you could be causing major issues for yourself, and for your hearing. You should speak with your doctor about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.