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Common Painkillers Contributing to Hearing Loss?

by Alexandra Kilpatrick

A recent study uncovered that taking over-the-counter painkillers on a regular basis can lead to hearing loss, especially in younger men.

The study’s researchers discovered that men younger than 50 that regularly took acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and certain other pain relievers, more than twice a week had about double the risk of hearing loss of those who did not take acetaminophen regularly.

According to the study, men younger than 50 who regularly took ibuprofen, the main ingredient in Advil, or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) at least two times weekly experienced an almost two-thirds higher risk of hearing loss than those who took NSAIDs less often. Those who took aspirin two times weekly experienced a one-third higher risk.

Although these men’s risk is heightened, the actual or absolute risk of hearing loss with the medicines is usually fairly small. The overall risk of hearing loss is about 1 percent per year and those who take an analgesic experience an increased risk beyond the 1 percent, Dr. Sharon G. Curhan of Channing Laboratory and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston explained in an email to Reuters Health.

“But if you consider that people continue to take the analgesic for years, then after 10 years, the risk would be 10 percent in the overall population and the risk in those taking an analgesic would be proportionately higher,” Curhan said, according to WorldBulletin.net.

“Even though these analgesics are available in the drugstore without a prescription, they are still medications and there are potential side effects. If individuals find a need to take these types of medications regularly, they should consult with their health care professional in order to discuss the risks and benefits and to explore possible alternatives.”

Published in the American Journal of Medicine this month, the study involved almost 27,000 men, between 40 and 74 years old at the outset, enrolled since 1986 in the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study. The participants provided information on analgesic use, hearing loss and other factors every two years for 18 years. About 3,488 of the subjects were diagnosed with hearing loss.

The study revealed that after factoring out relevant risk factors, hearing loss risk was about 12 percent higher in men who used aspirin at least two times per week, compared to those who used aspirin less than twice weekly. The researchers also discovered that the risk was about 21 percent higher in those who used NSAIDs or acetaminophen at least two times per week.

Among men younger than age 50, the hearing loss risk was higher by 33 percent, 61 percent and 99 percent higher in men with twice weekly use of aspirin, NSAIDs and acetaminophen respectively, compared to risks in those of the same age who used these painkillers less frequently. The hearing loss risk increased with longer duration of use for both NSAIDs and acetaminophen.

Compared to younger men, regular aspirin use did not increase the hearing loss risk in men over the age of 60. Rather, researchers noted a weaker link between hearing loss and regular use of NSAIDs and acetaminophen in older men.

The research team acknowledged that very high doses of aspirin tend to have toxic effects on the ear, including reversible hearing loss and tinnitus, while low-dose aspirin can protect against hearing loss caused by excessive noise or specific antibiotics.

“Hearing loss is the most common sensory disorder in the US and factors other than age and noise might influence the risk,” the researchers noted in their report, according to WorldBulletin.net. The three most commonly used drugs in the United States, aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen could easily be “one of the few preventable causes of hearing loss,” according to Curhan.

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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