Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he traveled across the US, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).

That’s only partially accurate. 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 fact, they were mostly only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.

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

Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. It’s not good for your health to start with (and not just 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). But many people enjoy getting buzzed.

This is not a new thing. Since we’ve been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being worsened by drinking alcohol.

Simply put, it’s not only the loud music at the bar that’s bad for your hearing. It’s also the drinks.

Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus

Most hearing specialists will agree that drinking alcohol can trigger tinnitus. That isn’t really that hard to believe. You’ve likely 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 (particularly when you close your eyes).

When alcohol interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, you may experience the”spins”.

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

Ototoxic compounds, including alcohol, will cause tinnitus

The word ototoxic might sound scary, but it simply indicates something that can be harmful to your hearing. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.

There are several ways that this plays out in practice:

  • The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be an origin of damage.
  • Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning properly when alcohol is in your system (clearly, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
  • Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these delicate hairs in your ears conduct vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.

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

So if you’re out for a night on the town or having some drinks with some friends, you may 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 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 type of damage is repeated consistently, it could become irreversible. 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 frequently.

Here are a couple of other things that are happening

Of course, it’s more than simply the booze. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons also.

  • Noise: The first is that bars are typically, well, noisy. That’s part of their… uh… appeal? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit too much. There’s much fun and merriment, people yelling, and loud music. All of that loudness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
  • Alcohol leads to other issues: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is rather bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms.

Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a potent (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. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the problem. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking, you could be creating major problems for yourself, and for your hearing. 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 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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