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Can Alcohol Abuse Cause Tinnitus?

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Alcohol use disorder can put you at risk for tinnitus, a serious hearing loss condition. You might have difficulty distinguishing voices or sounds against background noise or following people who speak quickly. Read on to discover how alcohol use disorder can impact your body and treatment methods for persistent tinnitus.

Brain Effects

Just because you hear immediate sounds in your environment doesn’t always mean your ears are fully communicating with your brain. In fact, alcohol consumption – from excessive to moderate – can damage the auditory cortex responsible for transmitting sound signals to your brain and then translating those sound signals into words, music and other sounds. When one consumes excessive alcohol, the auditory cortex shrinks, which limits your ability to process those sounds and ultimately hear them. 

Damages Auditory Hair Cells

Alcohol consumption can damage the auditory hair cells that translate sounds into nerve impulses via the auditory nerve to your brain’s auditory cortex. Over time, alcohol consumption can destroy your inner ear hair cells and once they are damaged, they, unfortunately, do not grow back which means that any kind of hearing loss that occurred from damaged ear hair cells will be permanent.

Studies like this have documented damaged hearing loss in young adults – stemming from ongoing alcohol use that leads to problems distinguishing lower frequency sounds – a researched condition now known as “cocktail deafness” that describes noise-induced hearing loss that occurs at a loud bar or nightclub. And while the effects can resolve within a few days, being exposed to these conditions can permanently damage your hearing.

Causes Ongoing Ringing

This highly annoying sensation experienced by alcohol abuse users is known as ringing in the ear caused by increased blood flow to the inner ear, causing tinnitus – a ringing, buzzing or swooshing sound in the ears. This happens because the blood vessels swell, creating a surge of greater blood flow within the inner ear. Although this condition can resolve itself in a few hours, it is still very annoying. Ongoing alcohol abuse can lead to permanent tinnitus. 

Creates Vertigo and Balance Issues

According to the Vestibular Disorders Association, alcohol impacts the volume and your inner ear fluid composition, which absorbs alcohol and remains present hours after your last drink. The inner ear, responsible for monitoring balance, creates vertigo, which can put you off balance and cause dizziness as well as damaged hearing loss.

What Is the Most Effective Treatment for Tinnitus?

In some cases, your tinnitus may go away on its own without any kind of medical intervention. Depending on whether the kind of tinnitus you have is a direct result from an ongoing medical condition, your best bet would be to seek medical intervention to first cope with your symptoms. 

Depending on the outcome, you might benefit from non-medical options to reduce the noise.  There are medical and non-medical options to reduce or cover up the unwanted noise. However, not every case of tinnitus can be eliminated or reduced.

Tinnitus Treatment Steps

·       Get a general physical, including an in-depth examination of your ears. Informing your doctor of any medication is necessary as your tinnitus can also be a side effect of drugs and medications.

·       If you can’t get a thorough diagnosis with treatment steps, you might need to be checked out by a hearing or ear specialist for hearing and nerve tests, also known as an audiogram. MRI or CT scans may be recommended to diagnose if the problem is structural.

Tinnitus Medications

Research has shown that anti-anxiety drugs such as Valium and antidepressants such as Elavil help to reduce the effects of tinnitus. Anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam (Xanax) may also be effective. Lidocaine is commonly used to treat abnormal heart rhythms intravenously or via the middle ear for maximum effectiveness, but it comes with a lot of risks.

Hearing Aids for Tinnitus

Also known as a tinnitus instrument, these tinnitus hearing aids are a combined hearing aid and hearing masker. A more pleasant sound will offset the difficult internal noise produced by tinnitus.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)

This 12-24 month rigorous treatment works on the brain level to help you distinguish and filter out a sound signal so that the excessive ringing and other difficult internal noises do not become a part of your auditory and toxic environment.

This two-part Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) program includes:

  1. Wearing in-the-ear sound generators that play a neutral sound
  2. Receiving one-on-one counseling in the form of cognitive therapy to help reduce and adjust one’s reaction to the tinnitus, which can be highly effective when used with other modalities of therapy, including tinnitus medication or with a tinnitus masking device

Biofeedback for Tinnitus Treatment

Because Tinnitus is highly stressful, it’s important for people who have it to also learn how to manage the emotional effects by learning how to readjust their reactions. Overall, this can have a positive effect in reducing tinnitus symptoms.

Tinnitus Treatment – Dental

Another way to relieve tinnitus symptoms is that of dental treatment. Experts have suggested that the proximity between the muscles and jaw nerves and those in the ear can be solved with dental treatment.  Specifically, the temporomandibular joint, otherwise known as TMJ may be causing tinnitus symptoms. 

Cochlear Implants

Cochlear implant surgery is a procedure typically reserved for just hearing problems and issues, specifically with severe deafness. A hearing device has also seemed to significantly help people with tinnitus-related hearing loss. This device sends electrical signals from the ear to the brain that allows the brain to process and translate those sounds into words, music, and other sounds.

How to Prevent Tinnitus

Minimizing your exposure to loud noises to reduce the risk of developing tinnitus is not just an important intervention; It’s also a crucial intervention.

Consider also wearing earplugs, turn down the volume or simply move away from a noisy place. Excessive earwax that causes tinnitus can be suctioned out or flushed out with warm water. Antibiotics and prescription ear drops containing hydrocortisone to help relieve any itching. An antibiotic can fight infection.

Another way to prevent ongoing occurrences with tinnitus is by controlling your diet. Strategies include:

  • Avoiding foods high in sugar and salt as these foods affect body fluid levels
  • Drinking enough water, especially when it’s hot and staying away from caffeine, which can exacerbate your tinnitus and also cause your body to lose fluids
  •  Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption, which impacts the inner ear and the volume and composition of the fluid

Sources

Nih.gov. [2004]. [online] Cumulative lifelong alcohol consumption alters auditory brainstem potentials from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15084909

Nih.gov. [2004]. [online] The acute effects of alcohol on auditory thresholds from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2031886/

Vestibular.org [online] Dietary Consideration. from https://vestibular.org/understanding-vestibular-disorders/treatment/vestibular-diet

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