Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Remember the old tale of Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you may have been taught that he traveled across the United States, bringing the gift of healthy apples to every community he paid a visit to (you should eat apples because they are good for you and that’s the moral of the story).

Actually, that’s not the entire truth. At the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his birth name) did in fact bring apples to many parts of the United States. But apples weren’t as delicious and sweet as they are now. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the chief use of apples.

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 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, throwing up, or passed out). Conversely, humans typically enjoy feeling inebriated.

This is not a new thing. People have been imbibing since, well, the beginning of recorded history. But it could be possible that your hearing problems are being exacerbated by alcohol consumption.

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

Drinking alcohol triggers tinnitus

The fact that alcohol causes tinnitus is something that hearing specialists will typically validate. That’s not really that hard to believe. 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 interferes with your inner ear, which is the part of your body responsible for balance, tinnitus can manifest.

And what other function does your inner ear take a part in? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can cause the spins, it’s not difficult to believe that it can also generate ringing or buzzing in your ears.

That’s because alcohol is an ototoxic compound

Now there’s a scary word: ototoxic. But it’s really just a fancy word for something that harms 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.

Here are a few ways this can play out:

  • There are neurotransmitters in your brain that deal with hearing which can be harmed by alcohol. This means that, while the alcohol is in your system, your brain isn’t working correctly (both decision making regions, and hearing centers are impacted).
  • Alcohol can decrease blood flow to your inner ear. This in itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t particularly like being starved of blood).
  • The stereocilia in your ears can be damaged by alcohol (these are fragile hairs that allow you to sense vibrations in the air, vibrations that your brain later translates into sound). These little hairs will never heal or grow back once they have been damaged.

Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t necessarily 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.

The good news is that these symptoms (when they are brought on by alcohol intake) are typically short-term. Your tinnitus will typically clear up 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 it may become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps happening continually. So if you drink too much too often, permanent damage could possibly happen.

A couple of other things are happening too

Of course, it’s more than just the booze. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene a little inhospitable for your ears.

  • Noise: The first is that bars are usually, well, loud. That’s part of their… uh… charm? Look, if you’re 20 it’s great; if you’re 40 it’s a little bit too 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 facets of your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the outcome of alcohol abuse. And more profound tinnitus symptoms as well as life threatening health issues could be the outcome.

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

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 social interaction, that’s the source of the issue. So you could be doing substantial harm to your health and hearing if you’re having a hard time moderating your drinking. You should speak with your doctor about how you can seek treatment, and start on the road 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.

Medical information dates as new research comes out all the time - if you have a concern about your hearing, please call us.

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