For Women, Painkiller Use May Lead to Hearing Loss

Bary E. Williams Au.D. Uncategorized

When you suffer from a minor headache or joint pain, it is a common practice to take an over the counter pain medicine to subdue the discomfort. While these household brands such as Tylenol or Advil can be effective in offering some relief, it is important to understand the risks of taking some of these medications too casually. There are potentially dangerous and irreversible side effects to taking these drugs. One of the dangers of these over the counter drugs is a risk to hearing health. 

What are ototoxic drugs? 

Ototoxic describes any substance which poses a risk to your ears. Ototoxic drugs can damage the cochlea and auditory nerve responsible for sending sound information to the brain from the inner ear.Tiny hairs in the inner ear can become damaged causing permanent hearing damage and tinnitus (a ringing of the ears). It is important to understand which drugs are classified as ototoxic in order to understand the risks and take these drugs in moderation.

One in twenty women hearing affected by ototoxic medication

With approximately 48 million people in the U.S. struggling with hearing loss it is important to understand your risk.  A study from The American Journal of Epidemiology recently published findings documenting the dangers of over the counter medications. The study found that 1 in 20 cases of hearing loss in women may be caused by everyday over the counter medications. 

The study collected data from 55,850 women aged 44-69, involved in the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study (NHS1), which began in 1976. The participants were surveyed biannually about their painkiller use. This data was examined with these women’s self-reported hearing loss 36 years later in 2012. There are many factors to take into consideration besides over the counter painkiller use such as alcohol consumption, smoking, hypertension, diabetes, level of physical exercise, diet and more, making the results of this study inconclusive. Still it is important to understand there is a risk to your ears, every time you casually take an over the counter pain medication.

How ototoxic medications affect hearing

Ototoxic medications cause the sensory cells of the inner ear to become damaged or destroyed.  These cells send information to the brain to help us hear and stay balanced.  With over 200 medications and chemicals identified as ototoxic it is important to be aware of the risk and to use these drugs carefully or at the advice of a doctor. Sometimes these medications cannot be avoided, like in the unfortunate event of a battle with cancer. However, understanding the risk of over the counter drugs which can damage your ears, may help you limit your consumption and the risk to your ears.

Which medications are ototoxic?

In the case of ototoxic drugs, it is important to understand that the higher the dosage the higher the risk to your ears. This is why sustained use of certain medications can produce severe risk to your hearing. Some of the most common painkillers, that we often don’t think twice about taking regularly, include aspirin, which is dangerous in high doses and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Naproxen or ibuprofen. Other drugs that can put our hearing at risk include some Chemotherapy medications, diuretics used to treat hypertension and heart disease and some antibiotics. 

How to protect your ears

The importance of consulting your physician about any medicine prescribed to you and the risk to your ears cannot be stressed more. Make sure your doctor knows every single medication you take, including over the counter medications, as they can contribute to hearing loss in conjunction with other medications that are dangerous for your hearing health. 

If you do have to take ototoxic medications, make sure that you monitor your hearing and balance regularly to make sure no damage is being sustained. Often these issues can be caught in time, allowing you to switch to another medication or adjust dosage. 

If you do suffer from hearing loss, we can help. Our team provides comprehensive hearing health services from hearing tests to hearing aid fittings. Hearing aids have been proven time and time again to help you hear the sounds you may be missing. With hearing aids, you can stay connected and engaged to this world, rich in sounds. Contact us today to learn more!

Bary E. Williams Au.D.