Have you thought about cutting out alcohol because of your tinnitus? Or have you already done so? Do you question whether it actually makes a difference?

Dr. Google

If you have been following my blog, you will know that I am huge fan of seeing what Dr Google teaches us about the world we live in. Why? Simply because this is the first place people tend to go to access information.

So… as you can see in the picture below, the first two webpages listed state opposing views.

tinnitus.org.uk says “the majority of evidence that is available suggests that alcohol is more frequently helpful rather than harmful with respect to tinnitus.”

hearingaiddoctors.com says “drinking alcohol…can tinnitus”

No wonder people are so confused! Let’s look at the evidence…

The Evidence

Surprisingly, the evidence on alcohol and tinnitus is minimal and research that does exist is very old.This is strange considering the increase in alcohol consumption globally.

OK – so it is generally known that alcohol can increase blood pressure. So, some feel that if the blood pressure increases the blood flow to the ear, this could cause tinnitus. But the mechanism of this is unclear. Particularly, if tinnitus does not even originate in the inner ear (food for thought? – check out the programme for more info on this!).

I know individuals who swear that alcohol negatively affects their tinnitus and I know those who swear that it has no effect. In 19951, 100 tinnitus sufferers completed a questionnaire exploring their experiences with alcohol on their tinnitus. 62% of the individuals reported no effect of alcohol on their tinnitus, 22% reported that alcohol worsened their tinnitus. Interestingly, 16% reported that alcohol improved their tinnitus.

However, this information should not be taken at face value. Full access to this journal article is not available, and the abstract fails to tell us where the sample of 100 individuals were collected. Imagine, if the individuals were all collected from a pub – where individuals are more likely to drink regularly and heavily, potentially introducing bias affecting the results. We also do not know whether there is a correlation between the consumption of alcohol and the effects on tinnitus e.g if you drink X pints of beer, the more likely your tinnitus would increase.

Another study in 19972 revealed different results. Majority of those in this study (84%) revealed that their tinnitus worsened with alcohol – and predominantly young women were the most affected.

Red wine

A common misconception is that red wine is the main culprit. This study highlighted that there is not one alcoholic beverage that could worsen tinnitus more than others.

Risk factors

In another light, a study conducted in 20103 investigated risk factors for developing tinnitus, in the first place. They reported that those who had light to moderate alcohol consumption were less at risk of developing tinnitus. They attributed this to alcohol providing improved insulin sensitivity and high-density cholesterol which leads to cardiovascular benefits which may help the blood flow in the inner ear.

In addition, no association was found between history of heavy drinking and development of tinnitus. However, this may be because:

1) there are potentially a lot less heavy drinkers of this older age alive compared to their counterparts

2) people may not report true history of alcohol consumption.

All in all, we know that there is no clear link between alcohol consumption and tinnitus.

Gladys’ opinion

If alcohol does not affect your stress levels or mood, don’t change your drinking habits because there is no proof of a direct link between alcohol and tinnitus. If you do feel that it affects you, then stop/reduce your alcohol consumption. There is clearly a mechanism that is not well understood here, and more research should be done to investigate exactly why it affects some and why not others.

Feel free to get in touch with Gladys if you have any enquiries.

References

1. Pugh R, Budd RJ, Stephens SD (Oct 1995). Patients’ reports of the effect of alcohol on tinnitus. Br J Audiol. 29 (5): 279–83.

2. Stephens D. Detrimental effects of alcohol on tinnitus. Clin Otolaryngol Allied Sci. 1999;24(2):114-6.

3. Nondahl DM, Cruickshanks KJ, Wiley TL, Klein BEK, Klein R, Chappell R, Tweed TS. (2010): The 10-Year Incidence of Tinnitus Among Older Adults. International Journal of Audiology  49(8):580-585.

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