We can suffer permanent hearing damage from prolonged exposure to high noise levels or even brief exposure to traumatic noise. Multiple illnesses can cause long-term harm to our hearing, including several genetic conditions. Even if you manage to avoid all that, there's a chance your hearing might start to go as you age.

What we've described above are three of the most common causes of hearing loss. But there's a fourth — ototoxic medication. We explain what it is and what you should know about it below. 

What Are Ototoxic Drugs?

You probably already guessed what ototoxic medication does. After all, it's right there in the name. When something is ototoxic, that means it's poisonous to the ear and can cause issues ranging from tinnitus to vertigo and even permanent hearing loss.

Believe it or not, ototoxic medication is quite widespread, as well. You've encountered it if you've ever used antibiotics, received drug treatments for cancer, or even taken aspirin. Other ototoxic drugs include: 

  • Diuretics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Anxiety medication
  • Antimalarial treatments
  • Allergy medication
  • Medication for controlling blood pressure
  • Certain types of antidepressants
  • Medications containing the chemical compound quinine

That's an extensive list, isn't it? Don't panic just yet, though. For the most part, none of these medications are guaranteed to damage your ears. 

Ototoxicity is just a possible side effect of using them. Plenty of people taking the above drugs are completely fine, with no permanent side effects. As with any medication, how you react largely depends on your history. 

Unfortunately, there's not much we can tell you beyond that. For the most part, we still don't fully understand the precise causes of ototoxicity. 

How Can You Tell If You're Experiencing Ototoxicity?

The best way to avoid permanent damage from an ototoxic medication is to pay close attention to your hearing health. If, after you start a new treatment plan, you begin to experience any of the following, consult with your primary care provider immediately: 

  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness and/or vertigo
  • Difficulty hearing high-frequency sound
  • Any other unusual changes in your hearing

Do not stop taking your medication before talking to your doctor. Sure, ototoxicity is an unpleasant side effect. But is it worse than whatever condition you're taking the medication to treat? 

How to Avoid Ototoxicity

The good news is that for many ototoxic drugs, they only become actively harmful when combined with other ototoxic medications or taken in high dosages. On their own, many of them are relatively benign. Again, take that sentiment with a grain of salt, as everyone reacts differently to medication. 

Beyond avoiding excessive dosages and trying not to mix ototoxic drugs, your next step is to consult with an audiologist and get a hearing exam before starting any treatments. That way, you'll have a baseline comparison and can tell if your hearing has indeed changed with your medicine. In extreme cases, you may need to go in for monthly or even weekly hearing exams. 

How is Ototoxicity Treated?

The simplest treatment for ototoxicity is to stop taking the drugs that are causing it. Unfortunately, if this is not an option, you have little recourse, and it may be time to look into a hearing assistance device. There is also some evidence to suggest that rehabilitative therapy can help address the balance issues created by ototoxicity.