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Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Remember the old story of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are a healthy choice and that’s the moral of the story).

That’s only partially true. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did indeed introduce apples to many states across the country around the end of the 19th century. But apples were very different way back then. They weren’t as sweet or tasty. Actually, they were generally only utilized for one thing: creating hard cider.

Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed visited was gifted with booze.

Humans have a tricky relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, nauseous, or passed out). On the other hand, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.

This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded time. But if you’re dealing with hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption 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.

Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus

Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you may have experienced something known as “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room seems like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.

The spins will manifest because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body responsible for balance: your inner ear.

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

That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic substance

Now there’s a scary 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 a few ways that this plays out in practice:

  • Alcohol can impact the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in control of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning correctly (obviously, decision-making centers are affected; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
  • The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for additional processing). Once those delicate hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
  • The blood flow in your ear can also be decreased by alcohol. The deficiency of blood flow can itself be a source of damage.

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

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

The good news is that these symptoms (when they are caused by alcohol intake) are usually temporary. As your body chemistry returns to normal, you’ll likely begin to recover some of your hearing and your tinnitus will decline.

Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And if this type of damage is repeated regularly, it could become permanent. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly occur.

A couple of other things are occurring too

It’s not just the booze, of course. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons also.

  • Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, noisy. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.
  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also detrimental to other aspects of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these issues can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more significant tinnitus symptoms.

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

So should you stop drinking?

Obviously, we’re not saying that drinking alone in a quiet room is the solution here. The root problem is the alcohol itself. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your alcohol intake, 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 drink heavily and you’ve noticed 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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