Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

When you start to use a new medication, it’s normal to look at the potential side effects. 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 occur is hearing loss. It’s a condition medical specialists call ototoxicity. Ear poisoning is what ototoxicity breaks down to.

Exactly how many drugs that can lead to this problem is unclear, but there are at least 130 that are on record as being ototoxic. What are some of the most common ones you should watch out for and why?

Some Facts About Ototoxicity

How can a pill reap havoc on your ears after you swallow it? these drugs can damage your hearing in three different places:

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped component of the inner ear that takes sound and converts it into an electrical message the brain can understand. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, typically beginning with high frequencies then escalating to include lower ones.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis creates endolymph, the fluid in the inner ear. Too much or too little endolymph has a significant impact on both hearing and balance.
  • The vestibule of the ear – This is the part of the ear that sits in the middle of the labyrinth that comprises the cochlea. It helps control balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.

Some drugs only cause tinnitus and others lead to hearing loss. If you hear phantom noises, that could be tinnitus and it commonly shows up as:

  • A windy sound
  • Ringing
  • Popping
  • Thumping

Usually, the tinnitus ends when you stop taking the medication. However, some of these drugs can cause permanent hearing loss.

What Drugs Put You at Risk?

You may be surprised by the list of medications that can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss. Many of them you could have in your medicine cabinet even now, and there’s a chance you take them before bed or when you are in pain.

Over the counter pain relievers are at the top of the list of ototoxic drugs:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen

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

Antibiotics rank a close second for common ototoxic medications. Some antibiotics are ototoxic but many aren’t. 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 stop using the antibiotic. Other drugs on the common list include:

  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine
  • Quinidine

Substances That Trigger Tinnitus


  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Tonic water
  • Marijuana

You are subjecting your body to something that could cause tinnitus every time you have your morning coffee. The good news is it will clear up once the drug leaves your system. Some drugs, ironically, which doctors prescribe to treat tinnitus are actually on the list of culprits.

  • Prednisone
  • Lidocaine
  • Amitriptyline

However, the amount which will lead to tinnitus is a lot more than the doctor will generally give.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

The symptoms of tinnitus vary depending on the health of your ears and which medication you get. Mildly irritating to totally incapacitating is what you can typically be anticipating.

Be on guard for:

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

Get in touch with 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 never stop using what your doctor tells you to. Don’t forget, most of the time the changes in your hearing or balance are not permanent. You should feel comfortable asking your doctor if a medication is ototoxic though, and make sure you talk about the possible side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. You should also schedule an appointment with a hearing care expert to have a hearing test.

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