The Medications that Can Cause Hearing Loss

medications cause hearing loss

You might have heard that hearing loss becomes much more common as we age – and that’s absolutely true. The Mayo Clinic reminds us that almost half of seniors in the United States who are 65 and older have some degree of hearing loss. This type of hearing loss, clinically known as presbycusis, is usually very gradual. Experts estimate that over 20% of those aged 48 to 59 have some hearing loss, while a whopping 90% of seniors over 80 years old have some sort of hearing difficulty[1]. But why does this happen?

Most of us are quite aware that loud, repetitive noises can exacerbate hearing loss. Attending loud concerts, working in factories where the machinery is operating at high decibels, and working on runways where the sound of jet engines are the norm are all potential ways to hasten hearing loss in your later years. Those in the military might face special challenges, as they are often exposed to loud noises without much warning, especially those who are deployed in a war zone.

Keep in mind that if you are suffering from hearing loss, you are at a much higher risk of falling. To put it in perspective, a 25-decibel hearing loss is considered mild; those with that level of hearing loss are three times more likely to suffer a fall than others, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. That’s why any level of hearing loss should prompt you to consider a medical alert pendant or watch. These devices can help you reach out for assistance if you fall down and suffer some sort of injury, as is the case for many elderly adults who fall[2].

Though hearing loss can be more obvious for those who have been exposed to excessive noise, there are some forms of hearing loss that occur without any connection to a loud atmosphere. It might be linked to an infection or some sort of injury to the ear. But sometimes, there’s no real reason to pinpoint, which can be quite troubling. But many people might not realize that their medications could be the culprit.

The Signs of Hearing Loss

How do you know if you are experiencing hearing loss? If you have been exposed to very loud sounds, you might already know that you are experiencing it and know exactly where it came from. But often hearing loss is much more subtle and increases over time. These signs might clue you in[3]:

·         Difficulty understanding words, especially in a crowd

·         Trouble with hearing consonants

·         Needing to ask others to speak more slowly or loudly

·         Sounds that are muffled and not as “sharp” as they should be

·         Turning up the volume on the radio or television

·         Avoiding conversations because it’s hard to hear the other person

·         Tinnitus, or a ringing or roaring sound in your ears

·         Sudden onset of balance problems

If you are suffering from any of these issues, it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor.

Medications Can Lead to Hearing Loss

You might rightfully assume any medication that goes into your ears, such as ear drops, can limit your hearing for a brief time. But you might be surprised to learn that some simple medications for seemingly unrelated conditions, prescription or over-the-counter, can lead to problems with hearing.

These drugs are known to be “ototoxic.” According to WebMD, “Ototoxicity is a medical term for ear poisoning. It is diagnosed when you have hearing issues or balance problems due to a high dose of certain medicines.”

Some hearing problems caused by medications can be reversible. If you stop taking the drug, your hearing will return. But some of these medications can lead to permanent hearing impairment. In addition, many seniors take more than one medication at a time, which could lead to drug interactions that affect your hearing[4].

What medications are the most common culprits for a hearing problem? Here are the six medications that could potentially affect your hearing.

·         Over the Counter Pain Relievers. These include aspirin, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Common names include Tylenol, Motrin, and Advil. Since they are available over the counter and almost everyone has a bottle of them in their medicine cabinet, they might seem relatively harmless as long as you don’t take too much. But studies have found that frequent use of even typical doses of these medications lead to a 24% higher risk of hearing loss in women[5]. Experts believe these medications might reduce enough blood flow to the inner ear that hearing problems eventually develop[6].

·         Hormone therapy. Large scale studies of women on hormone therapy to treat menopausal symptoms found that the longer a woman took the medications, the greater her risk of hearing loss. Those who took it for up to 10 years showed a 15% greater risk while those who took it for 10 years or longer had a 21% higher risk. However, those who used it for less than five years showed minimal increase in their risk of hearing problems, suggesting that women who use hormone therapy should only rely on it for less than five years to prevent potential hearing issues[7].

·         Certain antibiotics. Some antibiotics meant to treat severe bacterial infections and cancers can lead to hearing harm. Known as aminoglycoside antibiotics, these medications usually have “micin” or “mycin” at the end of the name. They damage the sensory cells inside the ear. They can be given orally or intravenously, but are always by prescription. More than half of patients who take multiple courses of these antibiotics can suffer mild to profound, irreversible hearing loss[8]. However, these medications can save your life if you have an infection in the bones or organs.

·         Some diuretics. Known as loop diuretics, these medications are used to treat high blood pressure and fluid retention. Common names include Lasix, Bumex, and Demadex. The good news is that hearing loss from these medications can usually clear up when you stop using them. However, if you are given a high dosage while in the hospital, you might suffer permanent hearing loss[9].

·         Drugs to treat malaria and autoimmune diseases. Quinine has long been used to prevent and treat malaria and has been seen to cause temporary hearing loss, especially in large doses. Other malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, are also used to treat autoimmune diseases. The good news is that the hearing loss tends to go away when you stop these medications.

·         Some chemo drugs. Chemotherapy can affect all parts of the body, including your ears. Some types of chemotherapy drugs, specifically those that are platinum-based, can lead to permanent hearing loss, tinnitus, and problems with balance. Common names include carboplatin and cisplatin, though there are many others that fall into this category. Radiation therapy, which is often given in conjunction with chemotherapy, can also be a culprit in hearing loss – but this usually only happens when the radiation is targeted near the ear[10].

How to Protect Yourself from Medication-Induced Hearing Loss

If you are taking any of the drugs listed above, don’t panic! The odds of hearing loss depend on many things, including how long you have been taking the drug, the dosage, your kidney function, other drugs you are taking (as they could lead to interactions) and much more. The best way to prevent hearing loss is to be proactive in talking with your doctor about your medications. Here are some tips:

·         Make a list. List out all the medications you are taking, including over the counter painkillers and even supplements. You never know what might cause an interaction with prescribed drugs. Take this list to your doctor and ask to go over them, one by one. Keep the list of your medications on a wallet card so it is with you wherever you go.

·         Talk with your pharmacist. Tell your pharmacist you are concerned about hearing loss. They have a wealth of information at their fingertips about drug interactions and side effects. They can be your “second opinion” after your doctor’s assessment of your medication list.

·         Be alert for problems. Tinnitus, which usually appears as a roaring or ringing sound in your ears, is often a first sign of a problem. Balance issues might also be a clue that you are heading toward hearing loss. If you suspect any sort of hearing problems, get in touch with your doctor right away.

·         Get a hearing assessment. Before you begin any of the medications that might cause a problem, get a hearing and balance test. This will establish a baseline so that subsequent tests can better determine if you are suffering hearing loss, and your doctor can adjust medications accordingly.

·         Understand how much you’re taking. Know your schedule for taking medications and stick to that regimen. Though it might be frightening to be on a medication you know might cause hearing loss, keep in mind that if your doctor prescribed it, the benefits outweigh the risks. Take the medication as directed, every time.

·         Get a pill organizer. To keep you on track, use a pill organizer like this medication dispenser and organizer from Alert1 Medical Alert Systems. With up to four alerts each day, this reminder to take your medication can help you keep up with a variety of medications and dosing schedules.

·         Never stop taking a medication without your doctor’s approval. It can be tempting to stop taking a particular medication that can cause hearing loss or other serious side effects, but keep in mind that the benefits might greatly outweigh the risks. Many medications that cause hearing loss, such as those for high blood pressure or chemotherapy, are essential to your health and well-being. If you’re nervous about a medication, talk to your doctor about other options.

·         Go with a natural approach. Look for alternatives to some medications you might take on a regular basis. For instance, if you are taking ibuprofen every day for an aching back, consider gentle exercise, stretching, or even physical therapy to help alleviate the pain. If you are taking acetaminophen to treat serious headaches or migraines, consider talking to your doctor about medication specifically meant for migraines that might not contain acetaminophen or any other ototoxic ingredient.

Being informed about your medications and their potential side effects is a proactive way to take care of your good health. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor with any concerns you might have, especially if you start to notice the initial symptoms of hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues. And in addition to the medication organizer to keep you on track, consider a medical alert system with fall detection to help keep you safe. Balance issues can creep up on you and lead to falls, but with a fall detection system, you have the peace of mind that if a fall does happen, you can get assistance right away.

If you or a loved one are suffering from hearing loss, your risk of falls increases significantly. Alert1 has emergency button alarms for every lifestyle and budget to help keep you safe and protected, 24/7.