Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s natural to check out the side effects of a medication when you begin taking it. You want to know if you can expect to feel nauseous or if it will cause you to have dry mouth. There is a more serious potential side effect that you may not realize which is hearing loss. Medical experts call this complication ototoxicity. Broken down, ototoxic means ear poisoning.

Exactly how many drugs that can lead to this problem is unclear, 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?

Some Facts About Ototoxicity

What happens to trigger hearing loss after you swallow your medication. these drugs can damage your hearing in three different places:

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped element 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, typically beginning with high frequencies then expanding to include lower ones.
  • 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 vestibule of the ear – This is the area that sits in the center of the labyrinth that comprises the cochlea. It helps control balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can cause you to get dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.

Tinnitus is caused by some drugs while others cause hearing loss. Tinnitus is a phantom noise people hear that commonly presents as:

  • A windy sound
  • Thumping
  • Ringing
  • Popping

Usually if you stop using the medication the tinnitus will stop. However, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What Drugs Put You at Risk?

Permanent hearing loss can be caused by a list of drugs that will probably surprise you. Many of them you could have in your medicine cabinet even now, and there’s a chance you take them before bed or when you are in pain.

Over the counter pain relievers are at the top of the list of ototoxic medications:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

You can include on the list salicylates that you might better recognize as aspirin. The hearing problems caused by these medications are generally reversible when you quit taking them.

Coming in a close second for well known ototoxic drugs are antibiotics. Some antibiotics are ototoxic but many aren’t. a few that aren’t which you might have heard of include:

  • Erythromycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Gentamycin

The issue clears up once you quit using the antibiotics just like with painkillers. Other drugs on the ordinary list include:

  • Quinine
  • Quinidine
  • Chloroquine

Substances That Cause Tinnitus

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

  • Caffeine
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine
  • Tonic water

You are exposing yourself to something that may cause tinnitus every time you have your morning coffee. The good news is it will pass once the drug is out of your system. Some drugs, ironically, that doctors give to treat tinnitus are actually on the list of culprits.

  • Prednisone
  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline

The prescribed amount should be less than the amount triggers ringing, though.

What Are the Symptoms of Ototoxicity?

They vary based on the medication and your ear health. Generally, you can anticipate anything from moderately annoying to completely incapacitating.

Be on guard for:

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

Get in touch with 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 use the medication? You should always take the medication your doctor prescribes. Don’t forget, often the changes in your balance or hearing are not permanent. You should feel secure asking your doctor if a prescription is ototoxic though, and always talk about the potential side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. Also, get a hearing exam with a hearing care specialist.

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