Alcohol and Tinnitus – Does it make tinnitus worse?
If you suffer from ringing in the ears, you’ve probably wondered how to minimize your symptoms as best as possible. Does alcohol make tinnitus symptoms worse? Should it be cut from your diet? Some of the science is conflicting.
The usual recommendation found online is that people with tinnitus should stop drinking alcohol, especially red wine. However, there seems to be sparse scientific evidence to back this up. In contrast, there has been some research that shows alcohol in moderation could be helpful rather than harmful.
So what is the truth?
Just like a typical elimination diet, the individual could remove alcohol from their diet and then slowly introduce it back, to see if tinnitus symptoms worsen. Of course, it’s important to check with your doctor first before trying any drastic changes to your diet.
While there are various causes of tinnitus, there is some evidence of alcohol affecting your hearing and potentially leading to hearing loss over time.
Alcohol and hearing loss
It’s common knowledge that excessive drinking only comes with negative consequences. However, it’s less known that excessive alcohol can actually permanently damage your hearing.
Alcohol consumption upsets the auditory cortex in the brain which deals with processing sound. This nerve takes the sounds we hear in the cochlea of the inner ear and sends it to the brain where the information is processed. A German study concluded the same principal, that excessive drinking over time will cause damage to the auditory cortex. So while your ears themselves are functioning, your brain is having problems understanding the sound.
In addition to causing issues with the auditory cortex, it’s been researched that drinking may also cause problems with hearing lower frequencies.
One study found that drinking seems to affect low frequencies more than higher frequencies.
The study concluded that: “alcohol preferentially blunts the lower frequencies thresholds including 1000 Hertz, which is the most important frequency to discriminate vowels. The reduction in hearing in these frequencies is more detrimental to understanding of the human speech. … Alcohol consumption in moderate amounts has been shown to alter the central auditory processing under difficult listening conditions.”
This scenario is also known as cocktail deafness and you might have even experienced it before. This is evident when you’re at the bar and it becomes increasingly more difficult to understand conversations.
While hearing is usually returned to normal after the individual has stopped drinking, research estimates that common occurrences of cocktail deafness could lead to hearing loss over time.
There can also be damage to important ear hair, which looks after sending the sounds from your ears, to the inner ear, which then sends to the auditory nerve in the brain. Too much alcohol toxicity and the tiny ear hair cells become damaged and do not regenerate.
Overall, we can see that excessive alcohol consumption can cause hearing problems. This in turn can then cause people who experience tinnitus to notice their symptoms more, or potentially cause hearing loss induced tinnitus. However, it’s important to note that casual drinking, or drinking moderately, should not cause permanent damage.
Can alcohol make tinnitus worse?
While there is minimal research in this field, there is evidence that alcohol can cause issues with blood flow. Subsequently, this can make tinnitus more noticeable. Because blood that flows quickly will make more noise than normal, the individual can become more aware of it.
Alcohol can cause blood vessels to swell and increase blood flow within the inner ear. While this situation doesn’t cause tinnitus, it can certainly make tinnitus sounds much more noticeable. However, the blood flow should go back to normal after the individual has stopped drinking. A similar situation occurs when the individual has caffeine or high amounts of stress, or they increase overall blood flow through intense exercise.
So in this instance, alcohol is not causing tinnitus but can make the tinnitus sounds much more noticeable.
Typically, you might find yourself at a loud, crowded bar enjoying drinks with your friends. While it seems harmless enough, the exposure to loud noise can make your tinnitus worse. Of course if you’ve already had a few drinks, you might not fully notice how loud the music is until hours later, or the next day when your ears are still ringing. But loud sounds over a long period of time can cause some serious issues with hearing loss and tinnitus.
If you are concerned with your hearing, you can buy ear plugs. These help protect you from loud noises, like music at a club or minimize your time in these loud situations.
Should I stop drinking because of my tinnitus?
The main thing to take away is that excessive drinking can cause problem with hearing, and subsequently impact tinnitus. Drinking moderately should not be enough to cause real damage or spur on hearing loss.
It’s important to remember to protect your hearing when at a loud bar and to ensure that you avoid binge drinking. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help improve tinnitus symptoms and overall quality of life.
Quiet Mind is a blog dedicated to turning a critical eye to tinnitus treatments and supplements. So many don’t work and are overhyped, we’re here to shed some light on some of the scams and successful products that claim to stop the ringing.