Should You Stay Away From Alcohol If You Have Tinnitus?

man drinking beer

If you have tinnitus, you may have come across information that suggests staying away from alcohol. Is this true? The answer will likely surprise you. 

Alcohol has been reported to worsen tinnitus in some people, but not in all. A study of 100 tinnitus patients showed mixed results, with 22% saying that drinking worsened their tinnitus, 16% saying that it helped to improve their tinnitus, and 62% reporting no effect at all. The study also noted that when tinnitus patients realized alcohol improved their tinnitus, they tended to start drinking significantly more.

It is important to note several definitions about alcohol consumption:

  • A drink is defined as 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of liquor
  • Light drinking is up to 1 drink a day for women and up to 2 for men
  • Moderate drinking is 2 drink a day for women and 3 for men
  • Heavy drinking is 3+ drinks a day for women and 4+ for men
  • Binge drinking is 4+ drinks at one sitting for women and 5+ for men

Alcohol is known to raise blood pressure which may temporarily increase perception of tinnitus, and while the evidence isn’t clear about the specific details as to why, there does appear to be a correlation. While this is usually temporary with light to moderate alcohol consumption, increased blood pressure can lead to changes to circulation in the inner ear. When drinking heavily, cutting back to moderate drinking instead can lower your blood pressure. Alcohol also has calories and weight gain is a risk factor for high blood pressure. 

On the other hand, some people find that alcohol and tinnitus do mix well. Light to moderate alcohol consumption can reduce stress and increase quality of life in other ways. This reduction of stress and other mental health benefits can reduce the effect that tinnitus may have on you. Of course, there are also many natural ways to reduce stress to help your tinnitus, including meditation, exercise, humor and recreation, CBT, sound maskers, and more, and alcohol should not be relied upon as a treatment tool.

Can Alcohol Cause Chronic Tinnitus? 

Now that we know how alcohol can affect tinnitus, it raises another question: can alcohol cause chronic tinnitus? There is no real evidence that consuming alcohol can do so. 

A systematic review of 11 studies found that overall, research does not show that alcohol and tinnitus are linked, or that alcohol can cause persistent tinnitus. Some studies have actually found that light to moderate alcohol consumption was associated with a reduced risk of developing tinnitus in certain people. This study examined those who had at least moderate tinnitus or tinnitus that kept them from falling asleep. The largest correlations with being more likely to have tinnitus were hearing loss, having a loud job or history of head injuries, depression symptoms, and such. Interestingly, use of medicine for depression was related to slightly higher likelihood of having tinnitus, while the use of anti-anxiety medications was not. It is not clear whether the use of medications was related to causes of tinnitus, or if tinnitus may lead to use of these medications.

Now, this doesn’t mean that alcohol itself can prevent tinnitus. In fact, the study noted that having had alcohol within the last year was related to lower likelihood of also having tinnitus for women, but not for men. However, answers aren’t clear as to why this may be. 

It has also been reported that light to moderate daily alcohol consumption has been shown to have cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) benefits, which may help cardiovascular health in the cochlea (a hearing structure in the inner ear). Light alcohol consumption has been shown to help with insulin sensitivity and cholesterol which can directly help the cochlea. This amount of alcohol has also been shown to help prevent hearing impairment, which could prevent tinnitus as well. 

One to two drinks daily has been associated with reduced death overall in people, as well as fewer heart attacks, heart failure, diabetes, and stroke. It may also reduce the risk of hearing impairment. However, two or more drinks a day have many negative health effects that we will detail below.

Should You Avoid Alcohol If You Have Tinnitus? 

Can alcohol make tinnitus worse or cause tinnitus? You do not need to avoid drinking up to a moderate amount of alcohol to prevent chronic tinnitus. Of course, you should consult with a doctor and follow their advice if they recommend you avoid alcohol for your general health or your tinnitus specifically. Here is the good news: alcohol is not necessarily going to harm your tinnitus. 

You should keep in mind that heavy alcohol drinking can cause continued health problems like high blood pressure. This has shown a correlation to chronic tinnitus. Avoiding heavy alcohol consumption is recommended across the medical field for this reason and more. Heavy alcohol drinking can cause stroke, heart disease, liver disease, numerous cancers, and death. You can be more likely to get certain diseases like pneumonia and pancreatitis as well. Alcohol can lower your immune system for up to 24 hours after drinking. 

Now that you know how alcohol could either harm or improve your tinnitus symptoms, as well as other parts of the body, you can choose how you want to use that information. If you do feel that alcohol helps your symptoms, that is a valid feeling. It can lead to a more relaxed state and being relaxed benefits your tinnitus. 

So, overall, alcohol does not appear to directly cause tinnitus, but still has the potential to affect it. If you enjoy drinking moderately, you can continue to do so, as long as you are watching out for any potential health concerns that may arise.  However, if alcohol is causing health issues and you’re looking for an alternative way to relax for your tinnitus, there are other good coping strategies that can be used.

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