What are their effects and what can you do if you’re taking them?

Everything you need to know about ototoxic medicines, how they work, their effects and what you can do to preserve your hearing while you’re on them.

What are Ototoxic Medications?

Oto (Ear) toxic (harmful) medications are those, which on consumption, can result in a hearing loss. These medicines can affect anybody regardless or factors such as gender and age. The question often arises as to why they would be prescribed if they are harmful to our hearing. Well, the benefits outweigh the risks.

Over a hundred medicines are considered to be harmful to our hearing. Here are some of the medicines that the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has confirmed are ototoxic:

  • Painkillers such as chloroquine and salicylate.
  • Medicines prescribed to treat liver cirrhosis, heart conditions and kidney disease such as furosemide, ethacrynic acid, piretanide, bumetanide.
  • Antibiotics drugs like aminoglycosides: Gentamycin, Streptomycin and Amikacin
  • Chemotherapy drugs like cisplatin, carboplatin and bleomycin.

Not all these medicines might have ototoxic side effects. The dosage and duration of use of drugs also play a role in hearing related side effects. While some may not experience side effects, individuals undergoing chemotherapy with one of these drugs are likely to exhibit side effects.

What are the symptoms?

Hearing loss is the most common symptom. Individuals consuming these medications have a gradual loss of hearing depending on their usage of the medication. The reason for this is because these medicines have a damaging effect on delicate hair cells, which are responsible for converting sound waves and sending them through the nerve to the brain. Damage to them results a sensorineural hearing loss. 

Other symptoms include ringing sensation in the ear, often called tinnitus and sensitivity to sound also known as hyperacusis.

Is it reversible?

Unfortunately in many cases, this type of hearing loss causes permanent damage to the hearing organ and it cannot be reversed, even after you’ve completed your treatment. However, it can be treated.

What can you do if you’re on ototoxic medication?

  • Monitor your hearing: It is important to have a baseline and monitor your hearing. 
  • Get periodic hearing testing during the course of your treatment.
  • Compare these results with the previous test reports along with your doctor and audiologist

Sometimes these medicines may not cause hearing loss but make your ears more sensitive to loud noises. In this case, it is important to protect your hearing by avoiding exposure to loud noises using hearing protection devices.

If any of the symptoms seem adverse at any point during your treatment, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. It is also important to follow your doctor’s advice and take the medicine, as it prescribed to treat a condition, could be fatal if not treated.

Furthermore, depending on the type and severity of your hearing loss, our specialists can help you find a suitable hearing aid which will help you hear again.