Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s normal to check out the side effects of a medication when you begin taking it. You want to know if you can expect to get nauseous or if it will cause you to have dry mouth. A more severe side effect that can potentially happen is hearing loss. Ototoxicity is the term medical professionals give to this condition. Broken down, ototoxic means ear poisoning.

It’s not completely clear how many drugs cause this problem, but there are at least 130 ototoxic medications on record. Which ones should you look out for and why?

Some Facts About Ototoxicity

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

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped element of the inner ear that takes sound and translates it into an electrical message the brain can comprehend. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, usually starting with high frequencies then escalating to include lower ones.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis makes endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a considerable impact on both hearing and balance.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the area that sits in the middle of the labyrinth that comprises the cochlea. It helps regulate balance. Vestibulotoxicity medications can cause you to get dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.

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

  • Thumping
  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Ringing

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

What Drugs Put You at Risk?

The checklist of drugs which can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss might shock you. You probably take some of these drugs when you are in pain and you might have some of them in your medicine cabinet right now.

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

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

Salicylates, better known as aspirin, are included on this list. While all these can result in some hearing problems, they are correctable when you quit taking the meds.

Antibiotics come in as a close second for common ototoxic medications. Not all antibiotics are ototoxic, though. Some that aren’t which you may have heard of include:

  • Erythromycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Gentamycin

As with the pain relievers, the issue clears up when you quit using the antibiotic. Other drugs on the common list include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinidine
  • Quinine

Substances That Trigger Tinnitus


  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Caffeine
  • Tonic water

You are exposing your body to something that may cause tinnitus every time you drink your morning coffee. The good news is it will pass once the drug leaves your system. Some drugs, ironically, which doctors prescribe to treat tinnitus are in fact on the list of culprits.

  • Prednisone
  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine

The doctor will prescribe much less than the dose that will cause tinnitus.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

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

Look for:

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

Contact your physician if you notice any of these symptoms after taking medication even over-the-counter drugs or herbal supplements.

Does ototoxicity mean you shouldn’t take 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 possible side effects of a medication and don’t hesitate to ask about ototoxicity. You should also make an appointment with a hearing care expert to have a hearing test.

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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