Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s normal to look at the side effects of a medication when you start taking it. Will it cause you to get a dry mouth or make you feel nauseous? What may not occur to you is that many medications have a more severe side effect – they can potentially cause loss of hearing. It’s a condition medical specialists call ototoxicity. Broken down, ototoxic means ear poisoning.

It’s still not known how many drugs cause this problem, but there are at least 130 that are known to be ototoxic. What are some of the most common ones you should look out for and why?

A Little About Ototoxicity

How does a pill go from your stomach to reap havoc in your ears? There are three places these drugs can damage your hearing:

  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis generates endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a considerable impact on both hearing and balance.
  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and translates it into an electrical signal the brain can understand. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, usually starting with high frequencies then escalating to include lower ones.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the area that sits in the center of the labyrinth that comprises the cochlea. It helps manage balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.

Tinnitus is caused by some drugs while others lead to hearing loss. If you hear phantom noises, that could possibly be tinnitus and it usually shows up as:

  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Thumping
  • Ringing

When you stop the medication, the tinnitus usually stops. Some ototoxic drugs, however, might lead to permanent loss of hearing.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

The list of drugs which can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss might shock you. Many of them you probably have in your medicine cabinet right now, and chances are you take them before bed or when you are in pain.

Over the counter pain relievers top the list of ototoxic drugs:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

You can include on the list salicylates that you might know better as aspirin. While all these can result in some hearing problems, they are correctable when you quit taking the meds.

Ranking a close second for common ototoxic drugs are antibiotics. Some antibiotics are ototoxic but many aren’t. You may have heard of some of these that aren’t:

  • Gentamycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Erythromycin

As with the painkillers, the problem clears up when you stop taking the antibiotic. The standard list of other drugs include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine
  • Quinidine

Tinnitus Can be Caused by Several Common Compounds

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  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Tonic water
  • Marijuana

When you get up every morning and drink your morning coffee you expose your body to a substance that might cause tinnitus. The good news is it will clear up once the drug is out of your system. Ironically, some drugs doctors prescribe to deal with tinnitus are also on the list of potential causes such as:

  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline
  • Prednisone

The doctor will prescribe much less than the amount that will trigger tinnitus.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

The symptoms of tinnitus vary based on your ear health and what medication you get. Typically, you can expect anything from mildly annoying to completely incapacitating.

Be on guard for:

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

Contact your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms after taking medication even over-the-counter drugs or herbal supplements.

Does ototoxicity mean you shouldn’t take the medication? You should always take what your doctor tells you to. These symptoms are only temporary so keep that in mind. You should be secure asking your doctor if a medication is ototoxic though, and make sure you talk about the potential side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. Also, schedule a hearing test with a hearing care specialist.

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