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Ototoxicity And Hearing Loss: What You Need To Know

Most medications come with the potential for side effects, hearing loss among them. Unfortunately, some medications that treat conditions ranging from chronic kidney failure to cancer and even malaria can damage your hearing temporarily or permanently. This damage occurs via a phenomenon called ototoxicity.

What is ototoxicity?

Ototoxicity occurs when medication or an environmental contaminant causes damage to the inner ear. Ototoxic drugs can lead to hearing and balance disorders such as vertigo, tinnitus (ringing sounds in your ears), total loss of balance, or mild to severe hearing loss.

The symptoms of ototoxicity can be temporary or permanent. If your symptoms disappear after you stop taking ototoxic medications (as is often the case), you can safely assume your symptoms were temporary. If not, your symptoms may be permanent. If that’s the case, there are treatment options available to help you manage these symptoms.

Which medications cause ototoxicity?

Several medications are known to cause temporary or permanent ototoxicity, but many ototoxic drugs are not known to doctors or patients just yet. That’s because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not analyze substances’ effects on inner ear function or structure as part of its approval process. As a result, some medications may reach the market and seem entirely safe until audiologists observe correlations between certain drugs and hearing loss.

Given this distinction, the below list of medications that cause ototoxicity may not be comprehensive, though the drugs listed are confirmed to be ototoxic. This list is separated by whether they cause temporary or permanent ototoxicity:

Temporary ototoxicity

  • Aspirin. This common pain medication (which can also treat heart conditions) can temporarily induce tinnitus and hearing loss, particularly at high doses.
  • Loop diuretics. These medications used to treat high blood pressure and edema due to kidney disease or congestive heart failure can cause temporary high-pitched ringing or hearing loss. Common loop diuretics include Bumex, Edecrin, Lasix, and Demadex.
  • Quinine. Unlike many other ototoxic drugs, quinine affects balance, which is connected to inner ear function, and not hearing. These substances, which are used to treat malaria or idiopathic muscle cramps, include chloroquine, quinidine, and tonic water.

Permanent ototoxicity

  • Anti-cancer drugs. Some anticancer drugs can destroy the ear’s hair cells as they kill cancer cells. Cisplatin-based chemotherapy drugs are especially notorious for leading to severe permanent hearing loss, and carboplatin-based chemotherapy drugs can lead to ear damage as well.
  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics. This class of antibiotics is used to treat conditions including cystic fibrosis. It includes amikacin, dihydrostreptomycin, gentamicin, kanamycin, neomycin, netilmicin, ribostamycin, streptomycin, and tobramycin. These antibiotics are more ototoxic if administered intravenously than by pill.

If you see a drug you’re taking on the above list, you shouldn’t immediately stop treatment. Instead, there are other actions you should take first.

What to do if you’re taking ototoxic medications

If you see any of your medications on the list above, speak with your doctor to see if you can replace your ototoxic medication with a similar prescription that has fewer or no hearing-related side effects. You should also inquire as to whether you have any risk factors that make you more susceptible to hearing loss, which can be exacerbated by ototoxic medication. These risk factors include:

  • Impaired kidney function
  • Taking several ototoxic medications simultaneously
  • Age
  • Preexisting hearing loss
  • Pregnancy
  • For anti-cancer drugs, prior exposure to head and neck radiation

Even if you lack these risk factors, you could still experience hearing or balance problems if you’re taking ototoxic drugs. Physical therapy can potentially help you with any balance problems you experience, and audiologists and hearing aid specialists can address your hearing loss.

For example, here at I Love Hearing, we’re happy to provide you with regular hearing screenings as you move through your regimen of ototoxic drugs. This way, we can catch the early signs of ototoxic hearing loss so you can work with your doctor to develop new treatment plans that lessen or avoid ototoxicity.

Ototoxicity and environmental chemicals

Though not drugs, environmental chemicals are important to know when discussing ototoxicity. Exposure to these ototoxic substances can cause permanent hearing loss. They include butyl nitrite, carbon monoxide, carbon disulfide, hexane, lead, manganese, mercury, styrene, tin, toluene, trichloroethylene, and xylene. If you suspect that you are being exposed to these chemicals at work or at home, speak with your doctor to determine next steps and decide the best way to mitigate this risk.

Treat your ototoxicity at I Love Hearing

In the case of temporary ototoxicity, you might just need to switch medications, as your symptoms should gradually subside after you stop taking ototoxic drugs. On the other hand, if you have experienced permanent hearing loss or inner ear damage, then hearing aids may be necessary. Here at I Love Hearing, we specialize in using hearing aids to address all kinds of hearing loss, including ototoxicity, and we’re eager to help all ototoxicity patients.

When you choose I Love Hearing, you get the convenience of choosing from among four different locations in New York City and Long Island. You also get access to every leading hearing aid brand and an unparalleled selection of additional hearing aid companies.

With this flexibility, you can address your ototoxic hearing loss on your own terms. Contact us today to book your appointment and return to hearing the city that never sleeps in all its round-the-clock glory!