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Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s normal to look at the side effects of a medication when you begin taking it. You want to find out if you can expect to feel nauseous or if it will give you dry mouth. There is a more serious potential side effect that you may not realize which is hearing loss. It’s a complication medical specialists call ototoxicity. Broken down, ototoxic means ear poisoning.

It’s not completely clear how many drugs cause this problem, but there are at least 130 that are on record as being ototoxic. Which ones should you look out for and why?

A Little About Ototoxicity

What happens to cause hearing loss after you swallow your medication. There are three places these drugs can damage your hearing:

  • 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 comprehend. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, usually starting with high frequencies then expanding to include lower ones.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the area that sits in the middle of the labyrinth that comprises the cochlea. It helps control balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can cause you to get dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis makes endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a significant impact on both hearing and balance.

Besides the drugs that can cause hearing loss, there are a few that cause tinnitus only. Tinnitus is a phantom sound people hear that usually presents as:

  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Ringing
  • Thumping

In general, the tinnitus ends when you quit taking the medication. However, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What Drugs Put You at Risk?

You may be shocked by the list of medications which can lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. It’s likely that you take some of these drugs when you are in pain and you might have some of them in your medicine cabinet right now.

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 problems induced by these medications are usually correctable when you stop taking them.

Ranking a close second for common ototoxic drugs are antibiotics. Not all antibiotics are ototoxic, however. Some that aren’t which you might have heard of include:

  • Erythromycin
  • Gentamycin
  • Vancomycin

As with the painkillers, the issue goes away when you stop taking the antibiotic. Other drugs on the ordinary list include:

  • Quinidine
  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine

Compounds That Trigger Tinnitus

Diamox, Bumex, Lasix and Edecrin are diuretics that result in tinnitus but there are bigger offenders in this category:

  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine

When you get up every morning and drink your morning coffee you expose your body to a substance that may cause tinnitus. After the drug leaves your system it will pass and that’s the good news. Some drugs, ironically, which doctors give to treat tinnitus are in fact on the list of offenders.

  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline
  • Prednisone

The prescribed dosage should be less than what triggers ringing, though.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

They vary depending on the medication and your ear health. Typically, you can expect anything from slightly annoying to completely incapacitating.

Look for:

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

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 use the medication? You should always take the medication your doctor prescribes. Remember, often the changes in your balance or hearing are short-term. You should be secure asking your doctor if a prescription is ototoxic though, and always talk about the possible side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. Also, get a hearing test with a hearing care specialist.

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