It’s common to think of hearing loss as a condition that only affects older adults, but in truth, it can affect anyone of any age, class, or any other demographic. While age-related hearing loss is the most common cause impacting one in three 65 and older and half of those 75 years and beyond, there are many other common causes, including widely accepted damage due to exposure to noise at work and during recreation. However, many people are surprised to discover that there are both prescription and over-the-counter medications which may lead to hearing loss. 

Medications Which May Lead To Hearing Loss

Ototoxicity occurs in chemicals and medications when it affects the tiny hair cells of the inner ear called stereocilia. While we use our ears to collect sound the task is not completed until sounds reach the brain. They achieve this using stereocilia, which transform audio waves into electrical impulses which can be interpreted by the brain. There are at least 100 classes of drugs that have the potential to cause mild to severe hearing issues and in addition to hearing can also increase tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and balance issues such as vertigo and disequilibrium (balance problems). 

Looking Out for Ototoxic Drugs

Many ototoxic drugs are prescription, meant for serious illnesses where their benefit may rule out the risk of hearing loss. However, some ototoxic drugs can be purchased over the counter and are in most people’s homes in the United States. Studies show that long-term use of over-the-counter painkillers  such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can lead to hearing damage. This is because these medications often block pain receptors and reduce swelling. In addition, ibuprofen is a blood thinner that can affect how blood reaches the cells of the ear, while acetaminophen can increase hypertension, which also affects the cells of the inner ear, making them more prone to damage when exposed to noise.

Prescription Medications Classified as Ototoxic:

Aminoglycosides Antibiotics

Aminoglycosides are commonly used in the treatment of severe infections of the abdomen and urinary tract, as well as bacteremia and endocarditis. The most common types of these medications come as gentamicin, tobramycin, amikacin, plazomicin, streptomycin, neomycin, and paromomycin. While they are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) they can have dangerous side effects to your hearing, so be sure to speak to your doctors to let them know your concern and see if there is an alternative option which won’t affect your ears.

Loop Diuretics 

Also known as water pills, this prescription medication is used to treat high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, kidney failure, and ascites caused by liver cirrhosis. Keep an eye out for some of the most common ototoxic diuretics such as Some of the furosemide (Lasix), bumetanide (Bumex), and ethacrynic acid (Edecrin) 

Chemotherapy Drugs

We all know that Cancer is a serious condition. In fact, it’s estimated that of 2021 there was around 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed and 608,570 cancer deaths in the United States! One of the most common treatments is chemotherapy, a group of medications which circulates throughout your body in the bloodstream aggressively killing cancer cells throughout the body as they attempt to split into two new cells. This type of treatment is devastating on the body but has also saved countless lives, so it’s often a tossup between life and death. One of the side effects of some common chemotherapy medications is hearing loss. Chemo drugs such cisplatin and carboplatin are used to kill cancer cells but may affect your stereocilia in the process. Most used for fighting cancer in the lungs, testicles and gynecologic area, chemo-induced hearing loss often occurs symmetrically in both ears. 

What to Do When Prescribed an Ototoxic Medication

If you find yourself prescribed medication which could potentially cause hearing loss, it’s important to weigh the risks. Often hearing loss is a “potential” side effect, not guaranteed. Some people have no issue at all and often other factors such as genetics, or exposure to regular noise, may interact with ototoxic chemicals to make effects more severe. Talk to your doctor if you are worried that a prescription medication may cause hearing loss as they are sometimes able to prescribe an alternative.

If you do have to take a potentially ototoxic medication for life-saving purposes, we recommend scheduling a hearing exam before and after to monitor the results. In addition, we can find the best hearing solution for you to help you hear your best for years to come.