Audiology Associates of North Florida - Tallahassee, FL

Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Do you recollect the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? When you were younger you likely heard the story of how Johnny Appleseed journeyed around bringing fresh apples to communities (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).

Actually, that’s not the whole reality. The real Johnny Appleseed (whose real name was John Chapman) did in fact introduce apples to many states across the country at about the turn of the 19th century. But apples weren’t as tasty and sweet as modern apples. In truth, they were mainly only used for one thing: producing hard cider.

Yup, every neighborhood that Johnny Appleseed paid a visit to was gifted with booze.

Humans have a complicated relationship with alcohol. On the one hand, it’s bad for your health (and not just in the long term, many of these health impacts can be felt immediately when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). But many individuals like to get a buzz.

This behavior goes back into the early mists of time. Humanity has been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded history. But if you have hearing issues, including tinnitus, it’s possible that your alcohol intake could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.

Put simply, it isn’t just the loud music at the bar that can cause hearing troubles. It’s also the cocktails.

Drinking alcohol causes tinnitus

The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will usually validate. That’s not really that difficult to accept. You’ve most likely experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. That’s when you get really, really dizzy and the room feels like it’s, well, spinning (especially when you close your eyes).

When alcohol disturbs your inner ear, which is the part of your body in control of balance, tinnitus can manifest.

And what else is your inner ear good for? Naturally, your ability to hear. Which means that if you’ve had the spins, it isn’t a surprise that you may have also experienced a buzzing or ringing in your ears that are characteristic of tinnitus.

Ototoxic substances, including alcohol, will trigger tinnitus

Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s actually just a fancy word for something that impairs the auditory system. This includes 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:

  • There are neurotransmitters in your brain that manage hearing which can be damaged by alcohol. So your brain isn’t working efficiently when alcohol is in your system (obviously, decision-making centers are impacted; but so, too, are the parts of your brain responsible for hearing).
  • Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most parts of your body don’t particularly enjoy being starved of blood).
  • Alcohol can degrade the stereocilia in your ears (these are tiny hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). Once those tiny hairs are damaged, there’s no coming back.

Drinking-related 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 might notice yourself developing some symptoms.

These symptoms, thankfully, are generally not lasting when caused by alcohol. Your tinnitus will typically go away along with most of your hearing loss when your body chemistry returns to normal.

Of course, the longer alcohol is in your system, the longer it will take your ears to return to normal. And if this kind of damage is repeated routinely, it could become irreversible. In other words, it’s entirely possible (if not likely) that you can generate both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too frequently.

A couple of other things are occurring too

Clearly, it’s more than just the liquor. The bar scene is not hospitable for your ears for other reasons as well.

  • Alcohol leads to other problems: Drinking is also bad for other aspects of your health. Alcohol abuse can result in health problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. And all of these problems can inevitably be life threatening, as well as contribute to more extreme tinnitus symptoms.
  • Noise: Bars are usually pretty noisy. Some of their appeal comes from…uh.. just this. But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit much. There’s loud music, loud people, and lots of yelling and mary-making. 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 visits.

Does that mean it’s time to 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 socializing, that’s the source of the issue. So if you’re having difficulty moderating your drinking, you could be creating significant issues for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the proper treatment.

If you’ve detected a loud ringing in your ears after heavy drinking, schedule 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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