Hearing Loss: A Lesser-Known Side Effect of Many Drugs

Hearing loss often is considered a normal side effect of aging. But new studies show that hearing loss may occur with the use of over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications. It’s a troubling side effect that’s rarely discussed or listed on drug labels. Here’s what you need to know.

Many drugs cause hearing loss
The American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association estimates that there are over 200 known medications that are considered ototoxic because they can harm hearing or cause balance issues. Researchers recently discovered that many widely used over-the-counter and prescription drugs are on this list, such as:

  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen – Researchers discovered that women who take acetaminophen or ibuprofen two or more days a week have higher incidences of hearing loss, as compared to women who took them less than once a week. The risk for hearing loss can increase with frequency of use. This includes naproxen as well.
  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics – For years, doctors have routinely treated ear infections with aminoglycoside antibiotic drops like neomycin. After discovering that these drops can cause hearing loss, doctors now use newer prescription drugs that won’t damage hearing.
    • Even though aminoglycoside antibiotics can cause hearing loss, they still are prescribed to treat meningitis and bacterial infections outside the ear that are resistant to other antibiotics.
  • Aspirin – Studies show that men who take aspirin two or more days a week are at higher risk for hearing loss. But hearing may improve when they stop.
  • Chemotherapy drugs – Some chemo drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin, are effective in killing cancer, but also can cause hearing loss. Depending on the type of cancer, doctors might be able to reduce the risk by decreasing the dose or treatment duration. Or, there could be other drug options that are less toxic to the ears.
  • Erectile dysfunction medications – Some of these drugs, such as Cialis and Viagra, may cause sudden hearing loss, typically in one ear.
  • Painkillers – Hydrocodone or oxycodone with acetaminophen is a powerful painkiller. If taken in excess or for an extended period, these painkillers can become toxic to the body and the ear, resulting in hearing loss or ringing in the ears.

Why hearing loss occurs
Hearing is a relatively complex process that relies on sensory hair cells in the inner ear to interpret sound waves into nerve signals that go to the brain. Learn how your brain interprets sound by reading this blog.

Medical experts believe ototoxic drugs affect blood circulation throughout the body and the ear. The loss of blood circulation can damage the ear’s hair cells and cause temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Seek medical assistance
Ototoxic medications sometimes are the best treatment option for medical conditions. Patients noticing any change in their hearing should immediately contact their physician.


U.S. News & World Report
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
Everyday Health
The Recovery Village


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