Close up of colorful medications that can cause hearing loss.

When you begin on a course of medication, it’s normal to want to be informed about any potential side effects. Can it trigger digestive issues? Will it cause dehydration? Make you sleepy? You may not even know about some of the more impactful side effects, like hearing loss. Ototoxicity is the medical term professionals have given this condition and there are many drugs that are known to cause it.

So can this issue be triggered by a lot of medications? Well, there are numerous medications known to trigger an ototoxic response, but exactly how many is still rather uncertain. So, which ones should you pay attention to and why?

What you need to know about ototoxicity

How can a pill damage your ears after you swallow it? Your hearing can be damaged by medication in three different places:

  • The vestibule of the ear: The cochlea is like a labyrinth, and sitting right in the middle is the vestibule of the ear. It helps regulate balance. When a medication triggers an ototoxic response to the vestibule of the inner ear, you can experience balance problems and the sensation that the room is spinning.
  • The stria vascularis: The stria vascularis is the part of the cochlea that produces fluid known as endolymph. Both hearing and balance are affected by too much or too little endolymph.
  • The cochlea: That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and converts it into an electrical signal that the brain can understand. When the cochlea is damaged, you will begin to lose some frequencies of sound, particularly in the high-frequency range.

Do different drugs have different threat levels?

The checklist of drugs that can result in temporary or permanent hearing loss might surprise you. Ototoxic medications are pretty common and the majority of people have several of them in their medicine cabinets right now.

At the top of the list of ototoxic medications are over-the-counter pain relievers including:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

You can add salicylates to the list, better known as aspirin. The hearing problems due to these drugs are typically reversible when you stop using them.

Next on the list of common ototoxic drugs would be certain antibiotics. Some of these may be familiar:

  • Streptomycin
  • Tobramycin
  • Kanamycin

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

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

  • Popping
  • Ringing
  • A whooshing sound
  • Thumping

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

  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine

You might not be aware that the cup of coffee or black tea in the morning can trigger ringing in your ears. Luckily, once the diuretic has cleared your system, the ringing should go away. Ironically, some drugs doctors prescribe to treat tinnitus are also on the list of possible causes such as:

  • Prednisone
  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine

Normally, the tinnitus will clear when you stop using the medication but always seek advice from 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 vary based on your ear health and which medication you get.

Be on guard for:

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

Keep yourself informed by always asking your physician about the possible side effects of a medication, don’t hesitate to ask about ototoxicity. If you experience ototoxicity we recommend that you contact your doctor to talk about your symptoms, they will know the best course of action.

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

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