Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you probably heard the tale of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around providing fresh apples to communities (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).

That’s only partially true. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as modern apples. Actually, they were mainly only used for one thing: producing hard cider.

That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was bringing booze to every community he visited.

Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not only in the long term, many of these health effects can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans typically enjoy feeling intoxicated.

This habit goes back into the early mists of time. People have been imbibing since, well, the dawn of recorded history. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.

In other words, it isn’t only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s the beer, too.

Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol

Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking causes tinnitus. That’s not really that difficult to accept. If you’ve ever imbibed a little too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. That’s where you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).

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

And what else is your inner ear used for? Obviously, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve experienced the spins, it isn’t surprising that you might have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.

Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus

The word ototoxic may sound daunting, but it simply indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This involves 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 few ways this can play out:

  • 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 functioning efficiently (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are affected).
  • Alcohol can damage 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 heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
  • Alcohol can reduce blood flow to your inner ear. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.

Drinking-related hearing loss & tinnitus isn’t always permanent

You may begin to notice some symptoms when you’re out on the town having a few drinks with friends.

These symptoms, thankfully, are usually not permanent when related to alcohol. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely start to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.

But the longer you have alcohol in your system, the longer your symptoms will last. And it may become permanent if this type of damage keeps occurring repeatedly. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly happen.

Here are some other things that are taking place

It isn’t just the booze, of course. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.

  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Alcohol abuse can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health issues could be the result.
  • Noise: Bars are typically rather noisy. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s much fun and merriment, people talking, and loud music. Your hearing can be damaged over time by this.

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

So should you quit 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 socializing, that’s the root of the problem. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be causing significant issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the right treatment.

If you’ve noticed 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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