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Over-the-counter painkillers can provide necessary relief. This is especially useful to alleviate severe pain immediately. But did you know that painkillers can increase the risk of hearing loss? Studies have shown that taking over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen just twice a week can damage hearing health for women.
Link Between Painkillers and Hearing Loss
Studies have shown a correlation between painkillers and hearing loss. This includes a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that examined the long-term effects of painkiller use on hearing health. It included 55,850 women between the ages of 44 and 69. After collecting data on painkiller use, researchers found that regular use – defined as two or more days per week – of painkillers contributed to:
- 9% higher chance of hearing loss for paracetamol (an ingredient in Tylenol) use over 6 years, compared with less than one year of regular use.
- 10% higher chance of hearing loss with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) used over 6 years. And 8% increased risk for use 1 -4 years.
Researchers determined that nearly 1 in 20 (5.5%) cases of hearing loss development could have resulted from painkiller use. This reveals a correlation between painkillers and impaired hearing but how exactly can these common over-the-counter medications impact hearing health?
How Painkillers Impact Hearing Health
Typically, the way over-the-counter painkillers relieve pain is by reducing inflammation. But in addition to decreasing the inflammation of tissues, researchers suggest that the inner ear can be affected in a few ways. Painkillers can damage the protective tissues that line the ear canal and the inner ear. It can also limit the blood supply to the inner ear or damage the hair cells in the cochlea. These hair cells in the inner ear play a critical role in the processing of sound.
Soundwaves are absorbed by the outer ear and travel through the ear canal to the inner ear. The hair cells then work to convert these soundwaves into electrical signals that get carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further analyze and process these signals, assigning meaning to them which is what allows us to understand what we hear. Less blood flow to the inner ear or damage of the tissue that lines this area reduces the capacity of these functions to be performed which contributes to the development of hearing loss.
Ways to Protect Hearing Health
There are several ways you can be proactive about your hearing health which is especially important if you regularly use painkillers. A few tips include:
- Consult your primary care doctor. If you experience chronic pain and/or use over-the-counter painkillers regularly, it is important to discuss the side effects of this medication with your primary care doctor. Research doesn’t suggest that temporary use of painkillers is harmful but that its consistent use can be. Identifying underlying causes of chronic pain that are leading to regular painkiller use is particularly important because you want to make sure that you are treating it effectively.
- Have hearing tested! In addition to seeing your primary care physician, it is useful to see a hearing healthcare specialist. Having your hearing tested is a great way to assess your hearing health. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss as well as the degree of impairment that you could be experiencing. If hearing loss is detected, your healthcare provider will discuss effective treatment options to meet those needs. If not, your results are a useful baseline from which you can track any changes to your hearing health that you may experience over time.
These strategies are useful ways to reduce your risk of developing hearing loss. They are also great ways to be preventative and proactive.
Prioritize Your Hearing Health
We recommend having your hearing assessed yearly. Annual hearing tests help track hearing health and needs which can change over time. Call us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. We offer a range of services that are invested in optimizing health and wellness.