Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he migrated across the US, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).
That’s only partially true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed bring apples to many states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as modern apples. Producing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.
That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every neighborhood he visited.
Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically like feeling inebriated.
This is not a new thing. Since humans have been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by drinking alcohol.
Put simply, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.
Drinking causes tinnitus
The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually verify. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s known as “the spins”.
When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, you may experience the”spins”.
And what else is your inner ear good for? Naturally, your ability to hear. So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.
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 damages the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is included in this.
Here are a few ways this can play out:
- Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning correctly (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).
- Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly like being deprived of blood).
- Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are usually temporary
So if you’re out for a night on the town or having 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 most likely begin 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 it could become irreversible if this type of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.
A couple of other things are occurring too
Of course, it’s more than just the booze. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.
- Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little too much. There’s plenty of laughing, people yelling, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over the years, cause damage to your hearing.
- Alcohol leads to other issues: Even if you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these issues can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your ears.
Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?
Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the socializing, that’s the root of the problem. So you may be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. You should talk to your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.
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.