Almost 37 million people suffer with hearing loss, and it’s not just the elderly who are affected. Up to one in three people in their forties have some degree of hearing impairment. It may be tempting to blame hearing loss on too many rock concerts or loud lawnmowers, but certain medications can worsen the problem too – even analgesic medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, aspirin, and acetaminophen. Taking aspirin is a recognized cause of reversible hearing loss and ringing in the ears, but over-the-counter NSAIDs and Tylenol can also damage the ears too.
Analgesic Medications and Hearing Loss in Men
When researchers tracked hearing loss in 26,000 men for eighteen years, they discovered that those who took analgesic medications, including acetaminophen, aspirin, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications regularly were more likely to have hearing loss than those who used them infrequently.
The big surprise in this study was acetaminophen, which almost doubled the risk of hearing loss in men under the age of fifty who used it regularly (twice a week or more). All in all, the greatest risk for hearing loss for all three groups of analgesic medications was greatest in men under the age of fifty.
Why Would Analgesic Medications Cause Hearing Loss in Men?
Doctors have long known that aspirin and some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications cause hearing loss. These medications damage tiny hairs on the cochlea of the ear that vibrate in response to sound. These vibrations are normally turned into electrical signals that are relayed to the brain. Analgesic medications also alter hormone-like chemical mediators called prostaglandins that play a role in hearing. In addition, they decrease blood flow to the cochlea of the ear.
The reason why acetaminophen increases the risk of hearing loss in men is not as clear. One theory is acetaminophen lowers levels of an antioxidant called glutathione that helps protect the cochlea from noise-related damage.
Analgesic Medications and Hearing Loss in Men: The Bottom Line?
It’s hard to draw solid conclusions based on this study since it didn’t include women, and the hearing loss was self-reported. On the other hand, it does show that analgesic medications aren’t necessarily benign even if they are sold over-the-counter. NSAIDs have even been associated with an increased risk of heart attack.
Before taking these analgesic medications, it’s important to talk to your doctor and make sure there isn’t a safer alternative. For long-term treatment of pain and inflammation, turmeric, tart cherry extract, and omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory benefits, although larger studies are needed to confirm this. But for mild pain, they may be a safer choice.
Arthritis Today website. “Pain Medications Tied to Hearing Loss in Men”
Science Daily website. “Regular Analgesic Use Increases Hearing Loss in Men, Study Finds”