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Medicine effects on hearing


Commonly used medicines—both over-the-counter and prescribed—can damage hearing or affect an existing problem. Any drug that might cause damage to structures of the inner ear is considered ototoxic (oh tah TOK sik). “Oto” means ear. “toxic” means poisonous. So, ototoxic means poisonous to the ear. These medicines can cause hearing loss or ringing in the ears, 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 medicine we have to cure a life-threatening disease or to stop a life-threatening infection.

What drugs are ototoxic?

The drugs known to cause permanent hearing damage include:

  •  Certain antibiotics (aminoglycosides), such as gentamicin and tobramycin, and
  • The platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin.

Exposure to loud noise while taking these drugs can increase the damage they do.

Other categories of drugs known to be ototoxic include:

  • Anesthetics (medicine that dulls pain),
  • Heart medicines,
  • Cortisone and steroids,
  • Mood altering drugs, and
  • Some vapors and solvents.

Talk to the doctor or pharmacist about whether a drug your child takes is ototoxic.

If my child is taking an ototoxic drug is there a way to know if the drug is causing hearing loss?

Yes, audiologists (hearing doctors) can perform tests to detect hearing loss before, during, and after your child receives these medicines. This usually involves testing hearing in very high frequency ranges (highest pitches). Ototoxic drugs affect these high 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. These tests help the medical team make decisions about continuing treatment. They may have to stop or change the drug therapy if hearing is damaged in the areas critical for speech.

In cases where hearing loss is sure to happen and “planned for,” the audiologist can plan and start therapies early. The hearing tests will continue as part of the rehabilitation process to make sure the hearing loss is stable. Rehabilitation may include fitting hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and learning new ways to communicate.

Adapted from materials from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association,


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.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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