Those Late Night Bar Visits Could be Contributing to Your Tinnitus

Group of older adults drinking at the bar.

Do you recollect the old tale about Johnny Appleseed? In elementary school, you might have been taught that he migrated across the United States, bringing the gift of nourishing apples to every community he visited (the moral of the story is that apples are good for you, and you should eat them).

That’s only somewhat accurate. Around the end of the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman was his real 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. Brewing hard cider, in fact, was the main use of apples.

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

Alcohol and humans can have a complicated relationship. On the one hand, it’s horrible for your health (and not just in the long run, many of these health impacts can be felt right away when you spend the early morning hours dizzy, vomiting, or passed out). Conversely, humans generally like feeling intoxicated.

This habit goes back into the early mists of time. People have been drinking since, well, the beginning of recorded history. But if you have hearing problems, including tinnitus, it’s likely that your alcohol use could be creating or exacerbating your symptoms.

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

Drinking triggers tinnitus

The majority of hearing specialists will tell you that drinking alcohol causes tinnitus. That’s not really that hard to accept. You’ve probably experienced “the spins” if you’ve ever drank too much. When you’re dizzy and the room feels like it’s spinning after drinking this is what’s called “the spins”.

The spins will occur because the alcohol is interfering with the part of your body in control of balance: your inner ear.

And what else is your inner ear good for? Hearing, of course! So if alcohol can produce 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 substance

The word ototoxic might sound intimidating, but it just indicates something that can be damaging to your hearing. The whole auditory system from your ears to your brain is involved in this.

Here are a number of ways this can play out:

  • Alcohol can reduce flow of blood to your inner ear. This by itself can become a source of damage (most regions of your body don’t really like being deprived of blood).
  • The stereocilia in your ears can be compromised by alcohol (these delicate hairs in your ears transmit vibrational information to your brain for further processing). Once those delicate hairs are compromised, there’s no coming back.
  • Alcohol can affect the neurotransmitters in your brain that are responsible for hearing. So your brain isn’t functioning efficiently when alcohol is in your system (both decision making centers, and hearing centers are affected).

Drinking-associated hearing loss & tinnitus aren’t always 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 related to alcohol intake) are normally short-term. 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 it could become irreversible if this kind of damage keeps occurring continually. In other words, it’s definitely possible (if not likely) that you can cause both permanent tinnitus and hearing loss by drinking too much and too often.

Here are a couple of other things that are taking place

Of course, it’s more than simply the liquor. There are a couple of other elements that make the bar scene somewhat more unfriendly to your ears.

  • Noise: Bars are normally pretty loud. That’s part of their… uh… charm? But when you’re 40 or older it can be a bit much. There’s plenty of laughing, people talking, and loud music. All of that noisiness can, over time, cause damage to your hearing.
  • Alcohol causes other problems: Even when you put the hearing loss element aside, drinking is pretty bad for your health. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure can be the result of alcohol abuse. And all of these problems can ultimately be life threatening, as well as worsen more extreme tinnitus symptoms.

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?

Of course, we’re not saying that drinking by yourself in a quiet room is the solution here. It’s the alcohol, not the social interaction, that’s the root of the issue. So if you’re having trouble moderating your alcohol intake, you could be creating significant problems for yourself, and for your hearing. Your provider can help you move towards living a healthier life with the correct treatment.

In the meantime, if you drink heavily and you’ve detected a ringing in your ears, it may be time to make an appointment with us to check for tinnitus.

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.