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Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s normal to check out the side effects of a medication when you start taking it. Can you expect to feel Nauseous or to have a dry mouth? A more serious side effect that can potentially manifest is hearing loss. It’s a complication medical professionals call ototoxicity. Ear poisoning is what ototoxicity breaks down to.

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

Some Facts About Ototoxicity

How does a pill reap havoc on your ears after you swallow it? There are three places these drugs can damage your hearing:

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and translates it into an electrical signal the brain can understand. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, typically starting 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 center of the labyrinth that comprises the cochlea. It helps manage balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis produces endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a considerable impact on both hearing and balance.

Tinnitus is caused by some drugs while others cause hearing loss. Tinnitus is a phantom sound people hear that commonly presents as:

  • Thumping
  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Ringing

Usually if you quit using the medication the tinnitus will go away. Some ototoxic drugs, on the other hand, can lead to permanent loss of hearing.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

You may be surprised by the list of medications that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Many of them you probably have in your medicine cabinet right now, and chances are you take them before you go to bed or when you have a headache.

Over the counter pain relievers are at the top of the list of ototoxic medications:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

Salicylates, better recognized as aspirin, are included on this list. The hearing issues induced by these drugs are generally reversible when you quit taking them.

Coming in 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:

  • Vancomycin
  • Erythromycin
  • Gentamycin

As with the pain relievers, the problem clears up once you stop using the antibiotic. The standard list of other drugs include:

  • Quinidine
  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine

Substances That Cause Tinnitus


  • Nicotine
  • Tonic water
  • Marijuana
  • Caffeine

When you wake up every morning and have your morning coffee you subject yourself to a substance that may cause tinnitus. The good news is it will pass once the drug leaves your system. Ironically, some drugs doctors prescribe to treat tinnitus are also on the list of possible causes such as:

  • Prednisone
  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine

However, the amount that will trigger tinnitus is much more than the doctor will generally prescribe.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

The symptoms of tinnitus differ depending on your ear health and what medication you get. Slightly annoying to absolutely incapacitating is the things you can typically be expecting.

Look for:

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

Does ototoxicity mean you shouldn’t use the medication? You should always take the medication your doctor recommends. Don’t forget that these symptoms are not permanent. Keep yourself aware by always asking your doctor about the possible side effects of a medication and don’t hesitate to ask about ototoxicity. Also, schedule a hearing test with a hearing care specialist.

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