Medications that cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

It’s normal to look at the side effects of a medication when you start taking it. Can you expect to feel Nauseous or to get a dry mouth? There is a more severe potential side effect that you might not recognize which is hearing loss. Ototoxicity is the term medical professionals give to this condition. Ear poisoning is what ototoxicity breaks down to.

It’s still not known how many drugs cause this problem, but there are at least 130 ototoxic medications on record. What are some of the most common ones you should watch out for and why?

A Little About Ototoxicity

What happens to trigger hearing loss after you swallow your medication. There are three different places certain drugs can damage your hearing:

  • The cochlea – That’s the seashell-shaped element of the inner ear that takes sound and translates it into an electrical signal the brain can understand. Damage to the cochlea affects the range of sound you can hear, usually beginning with high frequencies then expanding to include lower ones.
  • The stria vascularis – Located in the cochlea, the stria vascularis generates 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 center of the labyrinth that makes up the cochlea. It helps manage balance. Vestibulotoxicity drugs can make you dizzy or feel like the room is spinning.

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

  • Thumping
  • Popping
  • A windy sound
  • Ringing

Usually if you stop using the medication the tinnitus will stop. Unfortunately, permanent hearing loss can be caused by some of these drugs.

What Drugs Put You at Risk?

The list of drugs which can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss might surprise you. You probably take some of these drugs when you are in pain and you might have some of them in your medicine cabinet right now.

Over the counter pain relievers top the list of ototoxic medications:

  • Naproxen
  • Ibuprofen

Salicylates, better known as aspirin, are included on this list. While all these can lead to some hearing problems, they are reversible when you discontinue taking the meds.

Antibiotics come in as a close second for common ototoxic drugs. Not all antibiotics are ototoxic, however. a few that aren’t which you might have heard of include:

  • Gentamycin
  • Vancomycin
  • Erythromycin

When you quit using the antibiotics the issue goes away as with painkillers. Other drugs on the ordinary list include:

  • Quinidine
  • Chloroquine
  • Quinine

Substances That Cause Tinnitus


  • Nicotine
  • Marijuana
  • Tonic water
  • Caffeine

Every time you enjoy your coffee in the morning, you are subjecting your body to something that could cause your ears to ring. Once the drug is out of your system it will pass and that’s the good news. Ironically, some drugs doctors give to treat tinnitus are also on the list of possible causes such as:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Lidocaine
  • Prednisone

However, the dosage which will induce tinnitus is a lot more than the doctor will generally prescribe.

Ototoxicity Has Specific Symptoms

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

Look for:

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

Contact your physician if you notice any of these symptoms after taking medication even over-the-counter drugs or herbal supplements.

If you have ototoxicity does that mean you should avoid taking your medication? You should never stop using what your doctor tells you to. Keep in mind, usually the changes in your balance or hearing are short-term. You should feel comfortable asking your doctor if a medication is ototoxic though, and always talk about the possible side effects of any drug you take, so you stay aware. Also, get a hearing exam with a hearing care professional.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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