Hearing Health Blog

Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s natural to check out the side effects of a medication when you begin taking it. Will it cause you to get a dry mouth or cause you to get nauseous? A more serious 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 still not known 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 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 makes up the cochlea. It helps manage balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can cause you to get dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.
  • 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 understand. Damage to the cochlea impacts the range of sound you can hear, commonly beginning with high frequencies then escalating to include lower ones.

Tinnitus is caused by some drugs while others lead to hearing loss. If you hear phantom noises, that may be tinnitus and it usually shows up as:

  • Popping
  • Ringing
  • A windy sound
  • Thumping

When you discontinue the medication, the tinnitus normally stops. However, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What is The Risk Level For Each Drug?

The checklist of drugs which can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss might surprise you. Many of them you probably have in your medicine cabinet even now, and chances are you take them before bed or when you have a headache.

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

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

Salicylates, better recognized as aspirin, are included on this list. While all these can lead to some hearing problems, they are reversible when you discontinue taking the meds.

Ranking a close second for well known ototoxic medications are antibiotics. Not all antibiotics are ototoxic, however. Some that aren’t which you may have heard of include:

  • Gentamycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Erythromycin

The issue clears up when you stop using the antibiotics just like with painkillers. The standard list of other drugs include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine
  • Quinidine

Substances That Cause Tinnitus


  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water

You are subjecting your body to something that may cause tinnitus every time you have your morning coffee. The good news is it will go away once the drug is out of your system. Some drugs, ironically, that doctors give to treat tinnitus are in fact on the list of offenders.

  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline
  • Prednisone

The prescribed dosage should be less than the amount triggers ringing, though.

What Are the Symptoms of Ototoxicity?

The symptoms of tinnitus vary depending on your ear health and which medication you get. Generally, you can anticipate anything from slightly annoying to totally incapacitating.

Look for:

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

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

Does ototoxicity mean you shouldn’t use the medication? You should always take what your doctor recommends. These symptoms are only temporary so keep that in mind. You should be secure asking your doctor if a prescription is ototoxic though, and make sure you talk about the potential side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. Also, schedule a hearing exam with a hearing care expert.

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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