Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Do you recall the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he traveled across the US, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (you should eat apples because they’re a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).

That’s only partly true. The authentic Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to many states across the country around the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as yummy and sweet as they are now. In truth, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.

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

Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. It isn’t good for your health to start 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, nauseous, or passed out). On the other hand, humans generally like feeling inebriated.

This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.

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

Drinking causes tinnitus

The fact that alcohol triggers tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will generally confirm. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever had too much to drink. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).

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

And what other role does your inner ear take a part in? Naturally, your hearing. So if alcohol can bring about the spins, it’s not hard to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.

Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus

The word ototoxic might sound daunting, but it just indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. This includes both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, essentially everything that links your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.

There are a few ways that this occurs in practice:

  • The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). These delicate hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been compromised.
  • Alcohol can decrease flow of blood to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
  • There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).

Tinnitus and hearing loss due to drinking are often temporary

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

These symptoms, fortunately, are normally not permanent when caused by alcohol. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll most likely begin 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 persist. And if this type of damage is repeated regularly, it could become permanent. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly take place.

Some other things are occurring too

It isn’t just the alcohol, however. There are a couple of other factors that make the bar scene somewhat more inhospitable for your ears.

  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Even if you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for you. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms.
  • Noise: Bars are usually pretty 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 noisy music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.

In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and hazardous) mix for your hearing.

So should you stop drinking?

Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking alone is not at all what we’re recommending. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable harm to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. You should consult your physician about how you can get treatment, and start on the road to being healthy again.

For now, if you’re a heavy drinker and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it might 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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