Medication and Hearing Loss

Did you know that more than 200 types of common over-the-counter and prescribed drugs and chemicals can damage your hearing?  Aspirin, which lurks on a shelf in most people’s bathroom cabinets, is one of them.

Known as ototoxic, the adverse effects of these medications usually starts with ringing in the ears and/or loss of balance. More severe reactions, such as permanent hearing loss, occurs when ototoxic medications are taken in high dosages or over a long period.  

Due the dangerous side effects of ototoxic drugs they should be prescribed only to treat life-threatening illness where there are no adequate, alternative medications.  The consequences of hearing damage should not be taken lightly and be thoroughly discussed with your healthcare providers and family first.

Reactions to ototoxic drugs can include:

  • Loss of Balance – Dizzy spells or a chronic feeling of being unsteady on your feet.  Your body may be able to overcome some balance problems with time
  • Tinnitus – Head noises can be very difficult to get used to for some people.  Be aware that the commonly used term ‘ringing-in-the ears’ is an underwhelming description to those that suffer from tinnitus. Sounds that originate in our heads can be almost anything from intermittent clicks and screeches, the roar of a rushing river, or a high-pitched tone.  Tinnitus masks soft sounds and makes understanding some voices difficult.  Although tinnitus has no cure, wearing hearing aids is considered to be the best treatment during the day and white-noise sound machines at night.
  • Hearing loss – The risk of sustaining permanent damage to your hearing should not be taken lightly.  Multiple studies have found that not being able to hear well adversely affects a person’s overall wealth, health, and lifestyle. Low incomes and social withdrawal are common for hearing impaired people.  Chronic untreated hearing loss has recently been linked to depression, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s.

The damage from ototoxic medications is sometimes reversible after the patient stops taking the medication, but not always.  Be sure to discuss with your doctor the lingering and permanent effects of any of these drugs before taking them.  Ask for alternatives.

Note: Taking two or more concurrent regimes of medication can also have an ototoxic effect.  Be alert for reactions to ototoxic drugs listed above when starting a new medication.  Always ask your physician about any possible side effects of combining the medications he or she prescribes for you.

Common Medications and Chemicals that are known to be Ototoxic:

  • Cancer chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin.
  • Aspirin in large doses
  • Quinine  
  • Loop diuretics, such as furosemide and bumetanide used to treat certain heart and kidney conditions
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories such as the common over-the-counter painkillers Ibuprofen and Naproxen
  • Antibiotics such as gentamicin and streptomycin

People taking medications and chemicals for the following health conditions should be especially cautious: 

  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Serious infections

If you have reason to believe that you might be suffering from the effects of an ototoxic drug, be sure visit your doctor right away.