Common Painkillers Might Make You Hard of Hearing

Thought that your hearing loss was due to too may loud concerts back in the day? Maybe, but something else might be contributing too. A new study in men hints that taking over-the-counter painkillers regularly can also lead to hearing loss, especially in younger men.

Researchers from Harvard University, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Vanderbilt University and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston, examined the independent association between self-reported professionally diagnosed hearing loss and regular use of aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and acetaminophen in nearly 27,000 men. The men, who were between 40 and 74 years old at the outset, provided information on analgesic use, hearing loss and other relevant factors every 2 years for 18 years, during which time 3,488 men were diagnosed with hearing loss.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Medicine in March 2010, showed that men younger than age 50 who regularly took acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol and other pain relievers) more than two times a week had almost double the risk of hearing loss compared to men who did not take acetaminophen regularly.

The researchers also found that men younger than age 50 who regularly took ibuprofen (the main ingredient in Advil) or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at least twice a week had a nearly two-thirds higher risk of hearing loss than men who took NSAIDs less often. Men who took aspirin twice a week had a one-third higher risk.

In contrast to the findings in younger men, regular aspirin use did not increase the risk of hearing loss in men aged 60 and older, and the ties between hearing loss and regular use of NSAIDs and acetaminophen were weaker in the older men.

So, if you are a man who is younger than 50, should you empty out your medicine cabinet of painkillers?

Sharon G. Curhan, M.D. of Channing Laboratory at Brigham and Women's Hospital, advises that if individuals find a need to take painkillers regularly, they should consult with their health care professional to discuss the risks and benefits and to explore possible alternatives.

Secondly, it is important to note that in the their study, the researchers did not have information on the participants' lifetime exposure to loud noise, a common cause of hearing loss.

According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, only a small percentage of people with hearing loss seek treatment. However, those who do, report dramatic improvements in both their relationships and overall quality of life.

If you suspect you may have hearing loss, call your doctor for an appointment.

What to Do

Here is some information to help you prepare for the appointment.

  • Make a list of your symptoms. Include how long you've been experiencing them. Ask your friends and family to help you make the list complete. They may have noticed changes that aren't obvious to you, but will be important for your doctor to hear about.
  • Write down key medical information, especially related to any problems you've had with your ears. Your doctor will want to know about chronic infections, injury to your ear, or any previous ear surgery. Also be sure to write down the names of any medications (especially painkillers), vitamins or supplements you're taking.
  • Summarize your work history. Include any jobs even in the distant past that exposed you to high noise levels.
  • Create a list of questions for your doctor. Creating your list of questions in advance can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.
  • Take a family member or friend along. Someone who accompanies you can help you soak up all the questions and information from your doctor.

Note: Your hearing health is important. Don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any point you don't understand something.