Hearing Health Blog

Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

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

Actually, that’s not the whole truth. 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 were very different hundreds of years ago. They weren’t as sweet or delicious. In truth, they were mainly only used for one thing: making hard cider.

Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited received the gift of booze.

Humans have a complex relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s terrible for your health (you will often experience some of these health symptoms right away when you feel hungover). But many individuals enjoy getting buzzed.

This is not new. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been enjoying alcohol. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible 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 the health of your hearing. It’s also the drinks.

Tinnitus can be caused by alcohol

The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually confirm. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever imbibed a bit too much, you may have experienced something called “the spins”. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).

The spins will happen because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.

And what other function does your inner ear play a part in? Hearing, of course! Which means that if you’ve had 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.

That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance

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

There are several ways that this occurs in practice:

  • The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are little hairs that let you sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.
  • There are neurotransmitters in your brain that handle hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain in charge of hearing).
  • The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly like being starved of blood).

Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily permanent

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

These symptoms, thankfully, are generally not lasting 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 if this kind of damage is repeated routinely, it may become permanent. In other words, it’s completely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.

Here are a couple of other things that are taking place

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

  • Alcohol causes other issues: Drinking is also detrimental to other facets of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And more extreme tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health concerns could be the outcome.
  • Noise: Bars are typically pretty noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a little bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.

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

So should you stop drinking?

Naturally, sitting in a quiet room and drinking by yourself is not at all what we’re advocating. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the source of the issue. So you could be doing substantial harm to your health and hearing if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking. Your provider 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 noticed a ringing in your ears, it might be time to make 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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