Close up of colorful medications that can cause hearing loss.

It’s normal to want to know about the side effects of a medication when you begin using it. Can it trigger digestive problems? Will it cause your mouth to dry out? Make you drowsy? There may also be a more serious possible side effect that you might not be aware of – hearing loss. Many different drugs are known to trigger this condition which medical professionals label as ototoxicity.

Exactly how many drugs are there that can lead to this problem? The answer is not clear, but there are plenty that are known to trigger ototoxic symptoms. 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 impacted by medication? There are three distinct places certain drugs can damage your hearing:

  • 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 sense of sound. When the cochlea is compromised, you will start to lose some frequencies of sound, especially in the high-frequency range.
  • The vestibule of the ear: This is the portion of the ear that sits in the middle of the labyrinth that makes up the cochlea. Its principal function is to regulate balance. When a medication causes an ototoxic response to the vestibule of the inner ear, you can experience balance issues and the sensation that the room is spinning.
  • The stria vascularis: The stria vascularis is the part of the cochlea that generates fluid called endolymph. Both hearing and balance are impacted by too much or too little endolymph.

What is the risk level for each drug?

You may be surprised by the list of drugs that can cause an ototoxic response. Ototoxic medications are pretty common and most individuals have several of them in their medicine cabinets right now.

Over-the-counter pain medications including the following top the list:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

You can add salicylates to the list, better known as aspirin. The hearing problems due to these drugs are normally reversible when you stop taking them.

Antibiotics are a close second for well-known ototoxic medications. Some of these might be familiar:

  • Streptomycin
  • Kanamycin
  • Tobramycin

There are also several other compounds that can trigger tinnitus

Hearing loss can be the result of some drugs and others may trigger tinnitus. If you hear phantom sounds, that could be tinnitus and it normally shows up as:

  • Popping
  • Ringing
  • A whooshing sound
  • Thumping

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

  • Tonic water
  • Caffeine
  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine

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

  • Prednisone
  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline

Typically, the tinnitus will end when you quit taking the medication but always talk to your doctor, they will know what’s best for you.

There are very specific symptoms with an ototoxic reaction

The signs or symptoms of tinnitus differ depending on your hearing health and which medication you get.

Be on guard for:

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

Keep yourself informed by always consulting your doctor about the potential side effects of a medication, don’t hesitate to ask about ototoxicity. If you experience ototoxicity we suggest immediately contacting your doctor to talk about your symptoms, they will know the best course of action.

Also, schedule a hearing test with us, a baseline hearing test is a practical measure that can help you preserve good hearing health throughout your life.

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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.