For Women, Painkiller Use May Lead to Hearing Loss

For Women, Painkiller Use May Lead to Hearing Loss

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.

Many of us take over-the-counter painkillers when needed to alleviate the symptoms we’re experiencing. Painkillers can be a helpful way to provide relief when experiencing severe pain, inflammation, and/or discomfort. But it is also important to be aware of potential side effects and the impact of painkiller use. You may be surprised to learn that taking over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen can take a toll on hearing health. Recent studies show that these medications taken even just twice a week can contribute to hearing loss.

Link Between Painkiller Use & Hearing Loss

Research establishes a relationship between painkiller use and hearing loss. Studies show that painkillers can have negative effects on hearing health. This includes a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology where researchers assessed the long-term impact of painkiller use on hearing health among women. This study involved 55,850 participants who were between the ages of 44 and 69. Researchers collected information on painkiller use as well as hearing health. After analyzing this data, researchers found that regular use – two times per week – of painkillers resulted in:

  • Use of paracetamol (an ingredient found in Tylenol) over 6 years increased the risk of hearing loss by 9%
  • The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (this includes ibuprofen) over 6 years increased the risk of hearing loss by 10%. Use for 1-4 years increased the risk by 8%.

Researchers also found that an estimated 1 in 20 cases of hearing loss could have been caused by painkiller use. These findings highlight a link between painkiller use and hearing health, showing that painkillers can increase the risk of developing hearing loss.

Impact of Painkillers on Hearing Health

You are likely wondering what painkillers have to do with hearing health. Well, we know that painkillers can alleviate pain by reducing inflammation. But in addition to doing this, these medications can impact the inner ear in a few ways that then impact hearing. Experts suggest that painkillers can damage the tissues that line the ear canal and inner ear which serve as a protective barrier. These medications can also affect blood flow to the inner ear which can damage the hair cells situated in the cochlea.

Both the tissues that line the ear as well as the hair cells in the inner ear are critical components in how we absorb and process sound. The outer ear absorbs sound which travels through the ear canal to reach the inner ear. The hair cells in the inner ear send important auditory information to the brain. These sensory cells help convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals which get carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals which is how we can understand what we hear. Straining the tissues protects the ears and reduced blood flow affects these essential functions from being carried out. This can disrupt the process of how we hear, contributing to the development of hearing loss.

Tips to Protect Hearing Health

There are simple ways you can effectively protect your hearing health. This is particularly important if you do use over-the-counter painkillers. Useful strategies you can implement are:

  1. Discuss options with a primary care doctor. If you regularly use painkillers, it is important to discuss the side effects of these with your doctor. If there are underlying conditions that need to be treated, it is important to do this. Research shows that chronic use of painkillers can be harmful so you may need to discuss more effective treatment plans with your doctor.
  2. Regularly test hearing. It is also important to have your hearing assessed by a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests should be incorporated into annual health check-ins. This is a non-invasive and painless diagnostic tool that is used to measure your hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment you could be experiencing. If you do not have any hearing loss, having your hearing tested regularly allows you to track your hearing health and identify any changes you may experience later.

You can prioritize your hearing health by contacting us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation.