Commonly used medications—both over-the-counter and prescribed—can damage hearing or aggravate an already existing problem. Any drug that might cause damage to structures of the inner ear is considered ototoxic. “Oto” means ear. “toxic” means poisonous. Therefore, ototoxic means poisonous to the ear. These medications can cause hearing loss or ringing in the ears, commonly called tinnitus.
If a drug is known to cause hearing loss, why is it used?
Sometimes there is little choice. The drug that is used may be the only medication available to cure a lifethreatening disease or to stop a life-threatening infection.
What drugs are ototoxic?
The drugs known to cause permanent damage are the aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as gentamicin and tobramycin, and the platinum-based chemotherapeutic agents, such as cisplatin and carboplatin. Exposure to damaging noise while taking these drugs can increase the damage they can do.
Other categories of drugs known to be ototoxic include anesthetics, cardiac medications, glucocorticosteroids (cortisone, steroids), mood altering drugs, and some vapors and solvents.
It is important to discuss with the doctor or pharmacist whether a drug your child is taking is ototoxic.
Can the use of a known ototoxic drug be monitored to determine if hearing loss is occurring?
Yes, audiologists can perform hearing tests to detect hearing loss before, during and after your child receives these medicines. This usually involves testing hearing in very high frequency ranges because ototoxic drugs affect these frequencies first.
Hearing tests are done before the drug is given to see if your child already has a hearing loss. Your child’s hearing will be checked at scheduled times to detect hearing changes as early as possible. Information gathered through monitoring helps the medical team make decisions about continuing treatment. It may be necessary to stop or change the drug therapy if hearing is damaged in the areas critical for speech. In cases where hearing loss is inevitable and “planned for,” the audiologist can plan and start rehabilitation early. Monitoring of hearing usually continues as part of rehabilitation to determine if the hearing loss is stable. Rehabilitation may include fitting hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and learning new ways to manage communication.
Adapted from materials from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, www.ASHA.org
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
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