How Antibiotics May Cause Hearing Loss

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Hearing loss and antibiotics

We’re familiar with noise or even genetics as a cause of hearing loss, but did you know that certain medications may also damage hearing health? These days we are lucky enough to have a wide variety of pain-relieving and life-saving medicines at our disposal. Unfortunately, they often come with side effects, and in the case of ototoxic medications, including certain antibiotics, that includes hearing loss.

New research is digging into a specific class of antibiotics and exactly how they may be connected to hearing loss.

The findings

A team of researchers at Creighton University in Nevada recently tested the effects of gentamicin on mice. Gentamicin is an aminoglycoside antibiotic (known to be harmful to hearing) and is used to prevent or treat a wide variety of bacterial infections by stopping the growth of bacteria.

The team, led by Dr. Peter Steyger, Ph.D., explored the effect of inflammation on the delicate hair cells of the inner ear and how it may be avoided to prevent hearing loss. According to the team, inflammation in the body makes the hair cells more susceptible to the ototoxic effects of the antibiotic, which means that the more severe the infection, the greater the impact. They found that this effect could be pinpointed to one protein called TRPV1 and that in those mice bred without working TRPV1, hearing loss due to the gentamicin could be avoided.

“Personally, the most surprising aspect was realizing that some loss-of-function mutations in TRPV1 were dominant negative mutations, that protected the cochlea from inflammation-enhanced drug-induced hearing loss,” said Dr. Steyger to The Hearing Journal. “This gives us confidence that otoprotective drugs can be developed to prevent this type of hearing loss.”

The potential

While these findings are only the first step, Dr. Steyger’s team believes that they show potential for preventing ototoxic hearing loss in the future. In many cases, gentamicin and other antibiotics are the most effective option for healing severe bacterial infections, especially in the smallest of patients. This benefit makes the risk of hearing loss a necessary if life-changing potential side effect.

Whenever possible, healthcare providers opt for antibiotics that do not pose a risk to hearing. There is hope that in the future, there could be a solution to prevent hearing loss when ototoxic medicines are the only option.

This is just one of the many studies Creighton University has undertaken in hearing health to find new pharmacotherapeutics that prevent drug-, noise-, and age-related hearing loss. It is also a very personal mission for Dr. Steyger, who suffered hearing loss as a child due to antibiotics.

Protecting your hearing from medication

Antibiotics aren’t the only medications that can harm hearing. Common household pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen, plus chemotherapy drugs and loop diuretics, have all been linked to hearing loss.

If you take any of these medications, work with your physician, and hearing health care providers to minimize your risk of hearing loss. Schedule regular hearing evaluations to monitor your hearing health and address hearing loss early.

If you have questions about ototoxic medications, hearing loss or hearing aids, contact our office today to learn more.

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