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Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

When you start to use a new medication, it’s natural to look at the possible side effects. Will it cause you to get a dry mouth or cause you to get nauseous? A more severe side effect that can potentially happen is hearing loss. Medical specialists call this condition ototoxicity. Broken down, ototoxic means ear poisoning.

It’s still not known how many drugs lead to this problem, but there are at least 130 ototoxic medications on record. Which ones should you watch out for and why?

Some Facts About Ototoxicity

What happens to trigger hearing loss after you swallow your medication. There are three places certain drugs can damage your hearing:

  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis generates endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a significant impact on both hearing and balance.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the part of the ear that sits in the middle of the labyrinth that makes up the cochlea. It helps regulate balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can cause you to get dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • 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 understand. Damage to the cochlea impacts the range of sound you can hear, usually starting with high frequencies then expanding to include lower ones.

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

  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Ringing
  • Thumping

Normally if you stop using the medication the tinnitus will stop. However, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

The list of drugs that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss might shock you. Many of them you probably have in your medicine cabinet even now, and there’s a chance you take them before you go to bed or when you are in pain.

Topping the list for ototoxic drugs are over-the-counter pain relievers such as:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

Salicylates, better known as aspirin, can be added to this list. While all these can result in some hearing issues, they are correctable when you stop taking the meds.

Antibiotics rank a close second for common ototoxic medications. Some antibiotics are ototoxic but many aren’t. a few that aren’t which you might have heard of include:

  • Erythromycin
  • Gentamycin
  • Vancomycin

As with the pain relievers, the issue goes away when you quit using the antibiotic. The standard list of other drugs include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine
  • Quinidine

Tinnitus Can be Caused by Several Common Compounds


  • Marijuana
  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Tonic water

When you get up every morning and have your morning coffee you expose your body to a substance that can cause tinnitus. Once the drug is out of your system it will pass and that’s the good news. Some drugs, ironically, that doctors give to treat tinnitus are actually on the list of offenders.

  • Prednisone
  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine

However, the amount that will induce tinnitus is a lot more than the doctor will generally give.

What Are the Symptoms of Ototoxicity?

They vary based on the medication and your ear health. Typically, you can expect anything from mildly annoying to totally incapacitating.

Be on guard for:

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

If you have any of these symptoms after using a medication even if it’s an over-the-counter herbal supplement, you should get in touch with your physician.

If you have ototoxicity does that mean you should avoid taking your medication? You should always take what your doctor prescribes. Don’t forget that these symptoms are not permanent. You should feel comfortable asking your doctor if a medication is ototoxic though, and make sure you talk about the possible side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. Also, get a hearing exam with a hearing care professional.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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