We discuss all sorts of potential factors that can contribute to hearing loss, from age-related degeneration to diabetes. Most of these associated diseases (known as “comorbidities”) are somewhat indirect, and can be combated by managing the underlying conditions. But have you ever heard of ototoxicity, which can directly result in a loss of hearing?
At Hearing Unlimited, we want our patients to understand all of the risks they may be taking for developing hearing loss, especially those that may not be the most well-known. To help you become familiar, here’s an introductory guide to ototoxicity:
What is Ototoxicity?
Ototoxicity refers to a phenomenon in which a patient suffers hearing loss -- and sometimes a loss of balance -- because they’ve used certain drugs or medication. Ototoxicity affects the inner ear, particularly the cochlea and the vestibulo-cochlear nerve.
When you continuously take high doses of ototoxic medications, certain agents present in those substances can quite literally poison these structures in your ear, causing symptoms of hearing loss and balance impairment to appear. In fact, this is the origin of this condition’s name: “oto” means “ear,” and “toxic” refers to poison.
Which Medications Cause Ototoxicity?
Not all medications cause ototoxicity, and it usually only occurs when medications are taken in high doses over a long period of time. The drugs most commonly thought to cause hearing loss due to ototoxicity include:
- NSAIDs, which include over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin and naproxen.
- Antibiotics, particularly aminoglycosides, which are used to treat infections like UTIs and Staph.
- Cancer medications, especially those taken in high doses.
- Diuretics, designed to help your kidneys release sodium when you use the bathroom.
- Quinine-based medications, most often used to treat malaria.
What Are the Symptoms of Ototoxicity?
If you’ve been taking any of the aforementioned medications and you’re experiencing any of the following hearing symptoms, it’s definitely time to visit your audiologist as soon as you can:
- Tinnitus, a ringing, buzzing or other phantom sound in the ears
- Bilateral hearing loss, or hearing loss in both ears
- Unilateral hearing loss, or hearing loss in one ear
Additionally, due to the fact that it affects the inner ear, ototoxicity tends to cause problems with balance. Be aware of the following symptoms in addition to hearing loss:
- Increased dizziness
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty walking steadily
- Swaying or bouncing vision
How Can My Audiologist Help?
As in the case of most conditions that cause hearing loss, ototoxicity should be caught as early as possible for the most treatment options and the best outcome. For a general practitioner, ototoxicity can be difficult to diagnose, but an audiology specialist has the training and expertise to determine if damage has been done to your cochlea as a result of your medication.
Unfortunately, researchers in the field are still in the process of developing a method of reversing damage caused by ototoxicity. However, most of the time, you can stop its progression by immediately ceasing the use of the medication responsible and allowing your ear some time to heal from poisoning. If you have sustained irreversible hearing loss due to prolonged ototoxicity, your audiologist can also help you move forward with a treatment plan and have you fitted for the perfect hearing aid.
Prevention is the best method for combating hearing loss, and damage sustained due to ototoxicity is no exception. In the upcoming months, we’ll discuss how you may be able to prevent damage to your inner ear by finding alternatives to ototoxic medications.
If your current audiologist has made the difficult decision to close their doors, call Hearing Unlimited. Although we are closed to walk-ins, we are open for normal hours of operation, and we are following strict protocols to keep our environment safe while we continue to serve our patients.
The audiologists at Hearing Unlimited have the expertise to help you maintain your hearing health and prevent injury during this crucial time. Get your healthy hearing plan started today - contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment, and be sure to take advantage of our services and resources.