Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s natural to look at the side effects of a medication when you begin taking it. Will it cause you to get a dry mouth or cause you to get nauseous? What may not occur to you is that some medications have a more severe side effect – they can potentially cause hearing loss. Ototoxicity is the term medical professionals give to this condition. Ear poisoning is what ototoxicity breaks down to.

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

A Little About Ototoxicity

How does a pill go from your stomach to reap havoc in your ears? these drugs can damage your hearing in three different places:

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and converts it into an electrical signal the brain can comprehend. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, commonly beginning 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 comprises the cochlea. It helps regulate balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis creates endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a significant impact on both hearing and balance.

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

  • Popping
  • Ringing
  • A windy sound
  • Thumping

Normally if you stop using the medication the tinnitus will stop. Unfortunately, permanent hearing loss can be caused by some of these drugs.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

Permanent hearing loss can be caused by a list of drugs that might surprise you. Many of them you could have in your medicine cabinet right now, and chances are you take them before bed or when you are in pain.

Over the counter pain relievers top the list of ototoxic drugs:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

You can include on the list salicylates that you may know better as aspirin. While all these can result in some hearing issues, they are reversible when you quit taking the meds.

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

  • Erythromycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Gentamycin

After you quit taking the antibiotics the issue clears up like with painkillers. The standard list of other drugs include:

  • Quinine
  • Chloroquine
  • Quinidine

Tinnitus Can be Caused by Several Common Substances


  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine

When you get up every morning and drink your morning coffee you expose your body to a substance that may cause tinnitus. The good news is it will pass once the drug leaves your system. Some drugs, ironically, which doctors give to treat tinnitus are in fact on the list of culprits.

  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine
  • Prednisone

The doctor will prescribe a lot less than the amount that will trigger tinnitus.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

They differ depending on the medication and your ear health. Normally, you can anticipate anything from moderately annoying to totally incapacitating.

Be on guard for:

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

If you have any of these symptoms after taking a medication even if it’s an over-the-counter herbal supplement, you should contact your doctor.

Does ototoxicity mean you shouldn’t use the medication? You should always take what your doctor tells you to. Remember that these symptoms are not permanent. Keep yourself informed by always asking your doctor about the potential side effects of a medication and don’t hesitate to ask about ototoxicity. You should also schedule an appointment with a hearing care specialist to have a hearing test.

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