Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).

That’s only partly true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as modern apples. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the primary use of apples.

Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to received the gift of booze.

Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (you will frequently notice some of these health problems immediately when you feel hungover). Nevertheless, humans generally enjoy feeling inebriated.

This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.

So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only danger to your hearing health. It’s also the cocktails.

Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus

The majority of hearing specialists will agree that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly when you close your eyes).

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 experienced the spins, it’s not a surprise that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.

Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus

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, essentially everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.

Here are a number of ways this can play out:

  • The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those delicate hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
  • Alcohol can decrease flow of blood to your inner ear. The lack of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
  • Alcohol can impact 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 effectively (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain responsible for hearing).

Tinnitus and hearing loss caused by drinking are often temporary

You might start to detect some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.

These symptoms, fortunately, are usually not lasting when related to alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll most likely start 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 if this type of damage is repeated consistently, it could become permanent. In other words, it’s completely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.

Some other things are occurring too

Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.

  • Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
  • Alcohol leads to other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And more severe tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health problems could be the result.

The point is, there are serious risks to your health and your hearing in these late night bar trips.

Does that mean it’s time to stop drinking?

Obviously, we’re not suggesting that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the answer here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source of the problem. So you may be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.

If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule an appointment with us for a consultation.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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