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Close up of colorful medications that can cause hearing loss.

When you start on a course of medication, it’s natural to want to be educated about any possible side effects. Can it trigger digestive issues? Will it cause dehydration? Cause sleeplessness? There could also be a more severe possible side effect that you may not think of – hearing loss. Many different drugs are known to trigger this condition which medical professionals call ototoxicity.

Specifically how many medications are there that can lead to this issue? The answer is not clear, but there are plenty that are known to trigger ototoxic symptoms. So, which ones do you need to pay attention to and why?

What to know about ototoxicity

How is it possible for your hearing to be affected by medication? Your hearing can be damaged by medication in three distinct places:

  • The cochlea: That’s the seashell-shaped part of the inner ear that takes sound and converts it into an electrical signal that the brain can comprehend. When the cochlea is compromised, you will begin to lose some frequencies of sound, especially in the high-frequency range.
  • The stria vascularis: Situated in the cochlea, the stria vascularis generates endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a significant impact on both hearing and balance.
  • The vestibule of the ear: This is the part of the ear situated in the middle of the labyrinth that composes the cochlea. It helps manage balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can cause you to become dizzy or feel as if the room is spinning.

Do different drugs have different threat levels?

The checklist of medications that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss may surprise you. Ototoxic medications are pretty common and most people have a few of them in their medicine cabinets right now.

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

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

You can add salicylates to the list, which is aspirin. When you stop using these medications, your hearing will typically go back to normal.

Antibiotics come in as a close second for prevalent ototoxic drugs. You may have heard of some of these:

  • Tobramycin
  • Kanamycin
  • Streptomycin

There are also numerous other compounds that can trigger tinnitus

Some medications may cause tinnitus and others could result in loss of hearing. If you hear phantom noises, that could be tinnitus and it normally shows up as:

  • A whooshing sound
  • Popping
  • Ringing
  • Thumping

Certain diuretics will also trigger tinnitus, here are some of the primary offenders:

  • Tonic water
  • Caffeine
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine

You may not realize that the cup of coffee or black tea in the morning can cause ringing in your ears. Fortunately, once the diuretic has cleared your system, the ringing should recede. The following drugs are prescribed to manage tinnitus but ironically, they are themselves diuretics:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine
  • Prednisone

Usually, the tinnitus will clear when you stop using the medication but always talk to your doctor, they will know what’s best for you.

There are very specific symptoms with an ototoxic reaction

The signs or symptoms of tinnitus differ depending on your hearing health and which medication you get.

Here are some things to watch out for:

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

Make sure you ask your doctor about any possible side effects the medication they prescribed may have, including ototoxicity. If you experience ototoxicity we suggest that you contact your doctor to report your symptoms, they will know the best course of action.

Also, schedule a hearing exam 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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