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Close up of colorful medications that can cause hearing loss.

When you begin on a course of medication, it’s natural to want to be educated about any potential side effects. Can it cause digestive problems? Will it cause your mouth to dry out? Make you sleepy? You may not even know about some of the more impactful side effects, like hearing loss. Many different medications are known to cause this condition which medical professionals label as ototoxicity.

Exactly how many drugs are there that can lead to this issue? The answer is uncertain, but there are lots that are recognized to cause ototoxic symptoms. So, which ones should you watch out for and why?

What you need to know about ototoxicity

How can a medication wreak havoc on your ears after you take it? There are three distinct places certain drugs can harm your hearing:

  • The vestibule of the ear: The cochlea is like a labyrinth, and situated right in the middle is the vestibule of the ear. It helps regulate balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can cause you to become dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • The cochlea: That’s the seashell-shaped part of the inner ear that takes sound and translates it into an electrical signal that the brain can understand. Damage to the cochlea impacts the range of sound you can hear, typically starting with high frequencies then extending to include lower ones.
  • The stria vascularis: Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis makes endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a substantial effect on both balance and hearing.

What is the risk level for each drug?

The checklist of drugs that can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss might surprise you. Many of them you likely have in your medicine cabinet even now, and chances are you take them before you go to bed or when you have a headache.

Topping the list of ototoxic medications are over-the-counter pain killers such as:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

Aspirin, also called salicylates, is on this list as well. When you quit taking these medications, your hearing will usually go back to normal.

Antibiotics are a close second for well-known ototoxic medications. Some of these may be familiar:

  • Kanamycin
  • Streptomycin
  • Tobramycin

There are also a number of other compounds that can induce tinnitus

Hearing loss can be the result of some medications and others may cause tinnitus. Here are a few ways tinnitus might present:

  • Thumping
  • A whooshing sound
  • Ringing
  • Popping

Some diuretics can also cause tinnitus, including brand names Lasix, Bumex, and Diamox but the leading offenders in this category are things like:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water

You may not be aware that the cup of coffee or black tea in the morning can cause ringing in your ears. Here’s the good news, it should improve once the chemical is out of your system. The following medications are prescribed to treat tinnitus but ironically, they are themselves diuretics:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Prednisone
  • Lidocaine

Once you stop using the medication, the symptoms should clear up, and your doctor will be there to help you with anything you may need to know.

Ototoxicity has particular symptoms

Depending on what specific medications you’re taking and your hearing health, your particular symptoms will vary.

Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Tinnitus
  • Difficulty walking
  • Poor balance
  • Hearing loss on one or both sides
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting

Keep yourself informed by always consulting your physician about the possible side effects of a medication, don’t hesitate to ask about ototoxicity. If you experience ototoxicity we recommend immediately contacting your doctor to report your symptoms, they will know what’s best.

Also, schedule a hearing test with us, a baseline hearing test is a practical measure that can help you preserve good hearing health throughout your life.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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