Can the medications you’re taking cause hearing problems?

It is estimated that 66% of the American population has a prescription drug that they take daily, and that up to 4 billion prescriptions are dispensed annually. This number is only going up, as data points to a rise in the medications Americans are taking.

With that rise in medication usage, the hearing healthcare community expects to see a rise in ototoxic reactions, as well. Ototoxicity is the name for when a medication causes a change in a person’s hearing, balance, or causes tinnitus.

There are over 200 known ototoxic medications through both prescription and over-the-counter channels. Damage caused by ototoxic medications may be reversed but can also be permanent.

Here is a list of known ototoxic medications and what they are used to treat.

  • Aspirin and NSAIDS — pain medications like Aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be ototoxic when taken in exceptionally large doses.
  • Antibiotics — certain antibiotics such as aminoglycoside drugs which are commonly used to treat kidney disease.
  • Loop Diuretics — often used to treat high blood pressure and other cardiac conditions.
  • Oncologics — cancer treating drugs like Cisplatin, Bleomycin, and Cyclophosphamide.
  • Anti-Malarials — anti-malaria medications such as hydroxychloroquine are shown to cause tinnitus when taken over a long period of time or in high doses.
  • Antidepressants — SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been linked to tinnitus.
  • Benzodiazepines — mild tranquilizers that are prescribed on a short-term basis (like Xanax or Ativan) and are used to treat anxiety, stress, and more can cause tinnitus — though it is rare.


It's important to follow your physician's instructions

If you’ve been prescribed an ototoxic medication by your physician or certified medical specialist, it’s important that you keep taking it unless otherwise instructed by them.

But it’s also important that you communicate regularly with the prescribing doctor and work together to monitor your symptoms as well as monitor your hearing and balance systems during and after the treatment protocol. A hearing care professional can help with that part.

It is also good advice to work with that hearing care professional to establish a baseline record of both your auditory system as well as your vestibular system. A baseline audiogram should include high frequency audiometry and word recognition testing.

Your hearing care professional can provide periodic hearing tests to monitor function and to report any changes in symptoms. This can help you and your doctor make decisions regarding continuing treatment, changing your medications, or stopping the drug therapy regimen completely.

While ototoxicity is far from a leading cause of hearing loss, it does happen enough that it’s worth talking to your doctor and your hearing care professional if you have any questions or concerns about medications that you’re taking.

How to find a hearing care professional near you

Don’t have a hearing care professional? We can help. Simply type your zip code in here and you’ll find a list of local hearing professionals and audiologists who you can test your hearing and consult with about your hearing health.


Join our community of Starkey Blog subscribers

Want a week's worth of Starkey blogs delivered to your inbox every Friday? Sign up here.


By Keeley Layfield, Au.D.