(Adapted from the Canadian Hearing Society Blog – February 7, 2018)
There is a rather large list of prescription medications that are currently or have previously been on the market that have the ability to cause hearing loss, either temporary or permanent. When medications result in hearing loss, ringing in the ears, or balance disorders, they are known as ototoxic. With over 200 ototoxic drugs being prescribed over the counter or in hospitals they can include over the counter painkillers, certain antibiotic families and chemotherapy drugs. A dosage of certain drugs can cause irreparable damage to the inner hair cells. In some instances, the side effects caused by these drugs can be reversed when usage is stopped. Other times, the damage is permanent.
Tinnitus or ringing in the ears is often the first sign that a medication is ototoxic. If hearing loss develops, it may be some time before you notice. These medications can also cause onset balance disorders or dizzy spells. Feeling dizzy or difficulty in hearing conversations may cause you to stop participating in your usual activities and affect your quality of life.
(Provided by the Canadian Hearing Society)
There are numerous factors that affect ototoxicity. Dosage, course of treatment, genetics, age, dehydration, kidney and liver functions are the main factors to consider. Your doctor and pharmacist should be working collaboratively to ensure there are not any inherent risks to permanent hearing loss. In some instances, exposure to loud noise while taking certain drugs will increase their damaging effects. Toxins found in heavy metals, solvents and gases can also affect your hearing (Figure 1). These toxins can be found in occupational settings such as manufacturing facilities, dry cleaning, or in household items such as adhesives, spot removers, insecticides and paint/varnishes.
Ototoxic medications are typically used to treat serious illness. Your doctor should consider the effects of the medication on your hearing and balance systems.
Before starting ototoxic medication, we recommend seeing an audiologist for a baseline hearing test or balance assessment. Your test results can be helpful to your physician. They can evaluate if any steps should be taken to stop or change the medication if it begins affecting your hearing. If the medication cannot be stopped or changed, it’s advisable to meet with your audiologist for periodic hearing tests or to make adjustments to your hearing aids as part of the monitoring process.
Concerned about how medication could be affecting your hearing? Our hearing health care professionals would be happy to provide you with a consultation and baseline hearing test. Use the following form to schedule an appointment today.