Evanston Audiology - Evanston, IL

Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you most likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed traveled around providing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they’re good for you and that’s the moral of the story).

Actually, that’s not the whole reality. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to numerous parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as they are now. Actually, they were mainly only used for one thing: making hard cider.

That’s right. Johnny Appleseed was delivering booze to every neighborhood he visited.

Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (you will often notice some of these health issues right away when you feel hungover). But many people like to get a buzz.

This habit goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being worsened by drinking alcohol.

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

Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol

The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically verify. That shouldn’t be too big of a stretch to accept. If you’ve ever partaken of a little too much, you might have experienced something called “the spins”. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.

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

And what other role does your inner ear play a part in? Obviously, your ability to hear. So if alcohol can trigger the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also produce ringing or buzzing in your ears.

That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound

Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy term for something that impairs the auditory system. 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 several ways that this plays out in practice:

  • Alcohol can reduce blood flow to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly like being deprived of blood).
  • The stereocilia in your ears can be harmed by alcohol (these fragile hairs in your ears convey vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no repairing them.
  • There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working properly when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are impacted).

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

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 related to alcohol intake) are usually short-term. Your tinnitus will typically go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.

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 irreversible. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly occur.

Here are a couple of other things that are happening

It isn’t just the booze, of course. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little unfriendly to your ears.

  • Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. Look, if you’re 20 it’s fine; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit too much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of laughing. All of that loudness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is rather bad for you. Alcohol abuse can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as worsen more significant tinnitus symptoms.

In other words, the combination of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar trips a powerful (and risky) 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 advocating. The underlying issue is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing substantial damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. You should consult your doctor about how you can get treatment, and start on the path to being healthy again.

If you’ve noticed a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, make an appointment with us for a consultation.

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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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