Ototoxic Drugs: Common Drugs that Can Damage your Ears
by Dick Olsher (May 25, 2010)

As audiophiles we are passionate about music and take pride in our “Golden Ears,” our ability to resolve nuances in reproduced music. We are careful to protect our hearing from physical insults such as chronic exposure to elevated sound pressure levels (> 90 dBA). And we crank down the playback volume, because even frequent exposure to say headphone listening levels of 100 dBA can result in permanent hearing loss. Yet, very few of us realize, and would be horrified to learn, that exposure to hundreds of commonly used drugs has to potential to damage our ears.

Our sensory nerves are fragile and do not regenerate. Vision and hearing loss can be sudden. I was recently diagnosed with advanced glaucoma and had by then already lost most of my vision in the right eye in less than a year. In my case there was a genetic component, but my Lesley, after years of being on hypertension medication, developed tinnitus (ringing in the ears) in one ear. In searching for cures she eventually connected with Dr. Neil Bauman at the Center for Hearing Loss Help. She learned about his work in educating the public and systematically compiling information about ototoxic drugs. She has since been active in promoting his work to a wider audience, including physicians who generally seem to be clueless about ototoxic side effects. These side effects are not limited to hearing loss, but may include tinnitus, distorted hearing, hyperacusis, dizziness, vertigo, and ataxia.

A recent study, that generated considerable media interest, reported that US men taking Viagra, or similar erectile dysfunction medications such as Cialis or Levitra, were found to exhibit twice the incidence of hearing loss relative to men who don’t take such drugs. Viagra and similar medications already carry a carry a "black box" warning about potential hearing loss. However, there are hundreds of drugs out there with such risk and no obvious warning labels. These drugs include aminoglycoside antibiotics such as Tobramycin, Gentamicin, and Neomycin, ACE inhibitors such as Enalapril, beta blockers such as Atenolol and Metoprolol, Cardizem, Valium, Celebrex, Vicodin, and hundreds of others. If you’re concerned about a particular drug, the best resource to consult is Dr. Bauman’s book “Ototoxic Drugs Exposed,” which ranks drugs into risk-based classes, with class 5 drugs carrying the highest risk of ototoxic side effects. His book may be purchased on his website (Ototoxic Drugs) and is also available on Amazon.com. Lesley (a social worker and born activist) recently purchased four copies of the book which she plans to circulate to local medical practitioners.

Your best line of defense is to be an informed consumer. Be sure to read Dr. Bauman’s article on ototoxic drugs by clicking here: Ototoxic Drug Article. All drugs carry some risk, but I would be much happier staying away from class 4 and 5 ototoxic drugs and steering my physician toward the more benign class I and II options. With music being such a big part of our lives, protecting our hearing is now a major priority.