Hearing Health Blog

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 journeyed 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 accurate. Around 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 fact, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: making hard cider.

Yup, every community that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to was gifted with booze.

Alcohol and humans can have a complex relationship. It’s not good for your health to begin with (and not only in the long run, many of these health effects can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, throwing up, or passed out). Nevertheless, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.

This isn’t new. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.

So when you’re at the bar, loud music isn’t the only risk to the health of your hearing. It’s the beer, too.

Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol

The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually verify. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. You’ve probably 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 called “the spins”.

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? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it’s not a surprise 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

Now there’s an intimidating word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy word for something that harms the auditory system. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.

Here are a few ways this can play out:

  • Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
  • Alcohol can damage the stereocilia in your ears (these are tiny hairs that let you 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 reduced by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly like being starved of blood).

Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always long-term

So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting some drinks with some friends, you might notice yourself developing some symptoms.

The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are normally short-term. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely begin 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 if this kind of damage is repeated regularly, it could become irreversible. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.

Some other things are occurring too

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

  • Noise: Bars are typically pretty 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 bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Alcohol abuse can result in health issues such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.

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

Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?

Obviously, we’re not suggesting that drinking alone in a quiet room is the answer here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having trouble moderating your drinking, you could be causing significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. You should consult your physician about how you can seek treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.

For now, 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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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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