Pain Relievers May Increase Hearing Loss

By: Dr. Linda Remensynder

Many of us plagued with headaches, muscle strain, and stiffening of joints have resorted to using nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (brand name Motrin/Advil/Aleve) and acetaminophen (brand name Tylenol/Arthritis Pain Relief), as a method of treatment. A surprising ramification of NSAID use is that such pain medications may sacrifice hearing.

Carefully conducted research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston discovered that hearing loss tends to be greater in women on NSAIDs pain regimens--especially for those taking the medications six or more times per week. The study was comprised of 62,261 women aged 31 to 48, who were followed over a 14 year timespan. The research team assessed the relationship between hearing loss and use of ibuprofen, and acetaminophen, and aspirin.  

It was found that those participants who used ibuprofen two to three times per week had an increased risk for impaired hearing of 13 percent. Those using it four to five days per week had a 21 percent increased risk of hearing loss. Those taking it six or more days a week had a 24 percent increased risk. 

Similar results were found for study participants who used acetaminophen.

“Many of the harmful effects of NSAIDs are related to their primary mechanism of action through the inhibition of prostaglandins,“ said Sharon G Curhan, MD, lead author of the Boston study. “A proposed mechanism is that NASAIDs can reduce blood supply to the cochlea, which could result in cellular damage and cell death and thus impair cochlear function.” 

Despite its positive link to hearing loss in men, regular use of aspirin was not associated with increased hearing loss in women.

Take home message? Since we need our hearing for a lifetime, you need to make an informed decision when you choose the type of pain medication to treat your condition. It is imperative that you read the product label about content and dosage and then keep a vigilant eye on how often you use it.

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Linda S. Remensnyder, Au.D., recently retired, founded Hearing Associates, a private practice in Audiology in the Northern Suburbs of Chicago, in 1980.  Dr. Remensnyder received her Au.D. from the University of Florida and was the first Doctor of Audiology in Illinois.  She holds board certification in Audiology from the American Board of Audiology and has served on the Board of Governors for that organization.

In 2013, she was awarded the Lake County Women’s Coalition Honors: Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination and in 2014, she received the Patient Advocacy Award from the Illinois Academy of Audiology.  Over the years, Dr. Remensnyder has published articles on hearing loss and hearing management in a variety of professional and consumer publications.

Linda resides in Lake Forest, IL with her husband, Larry, their rescue schnauzer, Webster, and a new cockapoo puppy, Bentley.