Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Remember 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 good for you, and you should eat them).

Actually, that isn’t the whole truth. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. In truth, they were mainly only used for one thing: producing hard cider.

That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.

Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will often notice some of these health issues right away when you feel hungover). On the other hand, humans generally enjoy feeling inebriated.

This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.

In other words, it’s not just the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the cocktails.

Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol

Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to accept. You’ve likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (particularly with your eyes closed).

When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, tinnitus can manifest.

And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Obviously, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it’s not surprising that you might have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.

Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus

Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that damages the auditory system. This involves 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 damage the stereocilia in your ears (these fragile hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.
  • The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The lack of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.
  • There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working effectively (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are affected).

Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily long-term

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

These symptoms, fortunately, are usually not permanent when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll 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 go back to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated regularly, it may become irreversible. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.

Some other things are happening too

Of course, it’s more than just the booze. The bar scene isn’t favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.

  • Alcohol causes other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more severe tinnitus symptoms.
  • Noise: Bars are typically pretty noisy. That’s part of their… uh… charm? 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.

The point is, there are significant hazards 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 solution here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So you may be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.

In the meantime, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to schedule an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.

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