Hearing Health Blog

Close up of colorful medications that can cause hearing loss.

When you begin on a course of medication, it’s natural to want to be informed about any possible side effects. Can it trigger digestive issues? Will it cause dehydration? Cause insomnia? There could also be a more severe possible side effect that you might not be aware of – hearing loss. Ototoxicity is the medical term professionals have given this condition and there are lots of drugs that are known to cause it.

Exactly how many medications are there that can result in this issue? Well, there are a number of medications recognized to cause an ototoxic response, but just how many is still somewhat uncertain. So which medications do you personally need to be aware of?

Ototoxicity – what you should know

How is it possible for your hearing to be affected by medication? There are three distinct places certain drugs can damage your hearing:

  • The vestibule of the ear: The cochlea is like a labyrinth, and sitting right in the center is the vestibule of the ear. Its primary function is to manage 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 cochlea: The cochlea is part of the inner ear, shaped like a seashell, that transforms sound waves into electrical signals which your brain translates into the perception of sound. When the cochlea is damaged, you will begin to lose some frequencies of sound, especially in the high-frequency range.
  • The stria vascularis: Found in the cochlea, the stria vascularis generates endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a substantial impact on both hearing and balance.

Do different drugs have different threat levels?

You might be surprised by the list of medications that can result in an ototoxic reaction. Ototoxic medications are pretty common and the majority of people have a few of them in their medicine cabinets right now.

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

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

You can add salicylates to the list, which is aspirin. The hearing problems caused by these drugs are generally reversible when you stop taking them.

Antibiotics come in as a close second for well-known ototoxic medications. Some of these may be familiar:

  • Kanamycin
  • Tobramycin
  • Streptomycin

Tinnitus can also be triggered by several common compounds

Some drugs might cause tinnitus and others could lead to loss of hearing. If you hear phantom sounds, that could be tinnitus and it normally shows up as:

  • Popping
  • Thumping
  • Ringing
  • A whooshing sound

Specific diuretics will also trigger tinnitus, here are a few of the main offenders:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Tonic water
  • Marijuana

You may not realize that the cup of coffee or black tea in the morning can cause ringing in your ears. Luckily, once the diuretic has cleared your system, the ringing should recede. Ironically, some medications doctors prescribe to manage tinnitus are also on the list of possible causes such as:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine
  • Prednisone

After you stop using the medication, the symptoms should go away, and your doctor will be there to help you with whatever you may need to know.

There are very specific symptoms with an ototoxic response

Depending on what specific medications you’re taking and the health of your hearing, your particular symptoms will vary.

Here are some things to check out for:

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

Be certain that you ask your doctor about any possible side effects the medication they prescribed might have, including 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, call us today to set up a hearing test to establish a baseline of your hearing health.

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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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