Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s normal to look at the side effects of a medication when you start taking it. Can you expect to feel Nauseous or to have a dry mouth? A more serious side effect that can potentially occur is hearing loss. Medical experts call this condition ototoxicity. Ear poisoning is what ototoxicity breaks down to.

It’s not completely clear how many drugs lead to this problem, but there are at least 130 that are known to be ototoxic. Which ones should you look out for and why?

A Little About Ototoxicity

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

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and converts it into an electrical message the brain can comprehend. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, commonly beginning with high frequencies then expanding to include lower ones.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the part of the ear that sits in the center of the labyrinth that makes up the cochlea. It helps manage balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis produces endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a considerable impact on both hearing and balance.

Some drugs only cause tinnitus and others lead to loss of hearing. Tinnitus is a phantom noise people hear that commonly presents as:

  • Thumping
  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Ringing

When you stop the medication, the tinnitus generally stops. However, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

You may be shocked by the list of medications which can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. Many of them you could 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 medications:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Salicylates, better recognized as aspirin, can be added to this list. The hearing issues caused by these medications are generally correctable when you stop taking them.

Ranking a close second for common ototoxic medications are antibiotics. Not all antibiotics are ototoxic, though. You might have heard of some of these that aren’t:

  • Erythromycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Gentamycin

As with the pain relievers, the issue clears up once you stop taking the antibiotic. Other drugs on the common list include:

  • Quinidine
  • Quinine
  • Chloroquine

Substances That Trigger Tinnitus

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

  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water
  • Caffeine

Each and every time you drink your coffee in the morning, you are exposing yourself to something that might make your ears ring. Once the drug is out of your system it will pass and that’s the good news. Some drugs, ironically, which doctors give to treat tinnitus are actually on the list of offenders.

  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline
  • Prednisone

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

What Are the Symptoms of Ototoxicity?

They differ based on the medication and your ear health. Mildly annoying to completely incapacitating is the things you can generally be expecting.

Be on guard for:

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

Contact your physician if you observe 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 always should take the medication your doctor recommends. Remember that these symptoms are temporary. You should feel comfortable asking your doctor if a medication is ototoxic though, and always talk about the possible side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. You should also schedule an appointment with a hearing care expert to have a hearing test.

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