Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the US, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only somewhat 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 delicious. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.
Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start with (you will frequently notice some of these health problems immediately when you feel hungover). On the other hand, humans typically like feeling intoxicated.
This is not a new thing. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. 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’s bad for your hearing. It’s the beer, too.
Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically confirm. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever partaken of a bit too much, you might have experienced something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
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? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve experienced 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 substance
Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that harms the auditory system. This includes 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:
- Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
- The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these are tiny hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
- The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term
You may begin to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.
The good news is that these symptoms (when they are related to alcohol intake) are usually short-term. Your tinnitus will typically clear up along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.
Naturally, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to go back to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated routinely, it may become irreversible. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.
Some other things are happening too
Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.
- Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the result.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
Simply put, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a potent (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.
Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?
Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re recommending. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking, you could be creating significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. You should speak with your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.
If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.