Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s natural to check out the side effects of a medication when you begin taking it. Can you expect to feel Nauseous or to have a dry mouth? There is a more serious potential side effect that you might not realize which is hearing loss. It’s a complication medical specialists call ototoxicity. Broken down, ototoxic means ear poisoning.

It’s still not known how many drugs cause this problem, but there are at least 130 ototoxic medications on record. What are some of the most common ones you should watch out for and why?

A Little About Ototoxicity

How can a pill reap havoc on your ears after you swallow it? Certain drugs can damage your hearing in three different places:

  • 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 significant impact on both hearing and balance.
  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and converts it into an electrical message the brain can understand. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, commonly starting with high frequencies then expanding to include lower ones.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the part of the ear that sits in the middle of the labyrinth that makes up the cochlea. It helps control balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.

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

  • Thumping
  • A windy sound
  • Popping
  • Ringing

Usually, the tinnitus ends when you stop taking the medication. Unfortunately, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

The list of drugs which can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss may surprise you. You probably 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 are at the top of the list of ototoxic drugs:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Salicylates, better recognized as aspirin, can be added to this list. The hearing issues caused by these drugs are normally correctable when you quit taking them.

Antibiotics are a close second for well known ototoxic drugs. Not all antibiotics are ototoxic, however. You might have heard of some of these that aren’t:

  • Erythromycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Gentamycin

The problem goes away once you stop taking the antibiotics just like with painkillers. The common list of other drugs include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinidine
  • Quinine

Substances That Trigger Tinnitus

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

  • Marijuana
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Tonic water

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

  • Amitriptyline
  • Prednisone
  • Lidocaine

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

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

The signs or symptoms of tinnitus vary depending on the health of your ears and what medication you get. Normally, you can expect anything from mildly annoying to completely incapacitating.

Look for:

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

Get in touch with 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 take the medication? You should never stop using what your doctor tells you to. Don’t forget that these symptoms are temporary. Keep yourself informed by always asking your doctor about the potential side effects of a medication and don’t be reluctant to ask about ototoxicity. Also, get a hearing test with a hearing care professional.

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