Painkillers are great at doing their job – killing pain. But they might be harming your hearing, too.
It’s long been known that ototoxic medications (those which have a side effect of being toxic to the ear) can damage hearing, especially in older adults. There over 200 drugs that are known to be potentially ototoxic – many of them used to treat cancer, heart disease and infections. However, many people assume that over-the-counter medications do not pose such a risk.
Actually, recent studies have shown that frequent long-term use of OTC painkillers (such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, or Aspirin) can be linked to hearing loss.
Researchers speculate on the mechanism causing damage in the hearing organ, called the cochlea.
“Ibuprofen can reduce blood flow to the cochlea, which could result in cellular damage and cell death. Acetaminophen may deplete the antioxidant glutathione, which protects the cochlea from damage,” says study author Dr. Sharon Curhan, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
This doesn’t mean you should cease and desist all use of painkillers. It’s not taking them that inherently causes hearing loss – it’s taking them regularly and for an extended amount of time.
Current studies agree that limiting your usage might be a good idea.
“These drugs clearly have benefits with short-term use,” says Dr. Curhan. “However, frequent use of these medications and use over long periods of time may increase the risk of hearing loss and may cause other adverse health effects. Therefore, it is important to take these medications mindfully and to limit their use as much as possible.”
If you’ve been taking OTC painkillers as a way to manage pain and you’ve noticed any decrease in your normal hearing, it might be time to reassess the situation. It is always advisable to discuss any changes in medications with your physician, even non-prescription drugs.
Think your use of painkillers might be damaging your hearing?
Stop in and have a chat with us. The hearing loss you are experiencing just might be treatable. Determining the underlying causes helps indicate the best treatment options.