Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Do you recall the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he paid a visit to (the moral of the story is that apples are healthy, and you should eat them).

That’s only partially accurate. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real name) did in fact present apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as modern apples. Actually, they were mainly only utilized for one thing: making hard cider.

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

Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (you will frequently experience some of these health problems right away when you feel hungover). Conversely, humans generally enjoy feeling intoxicated.

This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Since humans have been recording history, people have been indulging in alcohol. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol consumption could be generating or exacerbating your symptoms.

In other words, it’s not only the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the cocktails.

Tinnitus can be triggered by alcohol

Most hearing specialists will tell you that drinking can trigger tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to believe. If you’ve ever partaken of a bit too much, you may have encountered something called “the spins”. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially with your eyes closed).

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

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 may have also experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.

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 involves both the auditory nerves and the inner ear, basically everything that connects your whole auditory system, from your ears to your brain.

Here are a few ways this can play out:

  • Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are in charge of hearing. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t functioning correctly (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the portions of your brain in charge of hearing).
  • The blood flow in your ear can also be reduced by alcohol. This alone can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t especially enjoy being deprived of blood).
  • Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are fragile hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). These delicate hairs will never recover or grow back once they have been compromised.

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

So if you’re out for a night on the town or getting 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 usually temporary. As your body chemistry goes back to normal, you’ll likely start 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 last. And if this type of damage is repeated consistently, it could become irreversible. So if you drink too much too frequently, permanent damage could possibly take place.

Here are a couple of other things that are happening

It’s not only the alcohol, of course. The bar scene is not favorable for your ears for other reasons as well.

  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss factor aside, drinking is pretty 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 worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
  • Noise: Bars are usually pretty loud. Some of their charm comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit too much. There’s noisy music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. Your hearing can be compromised over time by this.

Simply put, the mix of the environment and the alcohol make those late night bar visits a powerful (and risky) mix for your ears.

Does that mean it’s time to quit drinking?

Obviously, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. The underlying problem is the alcohol itself. So you could be doing considerable damage to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your alcohol intake. Your doctor can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.

If you’ve detected 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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