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Everyday painkillers may cause hearing loss

March 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Researchers say there may be a link between everyday painkiller medications and moderate to profound hearing loss.Hearing loss is common among the elderly, but about 12 million people between the ages of 40 and 49 also have problems hearing.

Every day, 36 million Americans take an over-the-counter painkiller like acetaminophen, ibuprofen or aspirin.

But for the first time, researchers say they're seeing a connection between these everyday medications and hearing loss. It's a study that may trigger big changes.

In the study, experts found the younger the men in the study, the higher the risk.

Dr. Eric Wilkinson with the House Ear Clinic says he has seen the damage first hand.

"These medications can have a direct damage to the hair cells of the inner ear chemically, but they also cause a DNA damage over time through the use of free radical formation," said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said that he and his colleagues have implanted about 80 patients with cochlear implants who have lost their hearing due to vicodin use.

He said that it could be the combination of acetaminophen with a narcotic, but based on this new information, he suspects it could be the acetaminophen itself.

In the study of 26,000 male health professionals, men who used over-the-counter pain killers twice a week were 16 to 99 percent more likely to report a hearing a loss.

NSAIDS, or non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs, increase the risk for hearing loss, but people under 50 who regularly take acetaminophen face a nearly 100 percent chance of having hearing damage.

"They're reporting a higher incidence of hearing loss with acetaminophen compared to aspirin or other anti inflammatory drugs such as Motrin or Advil," said Wilkinson.

This new finding in the American Journal of Medicine shows a trend, but more research needs to be done before recommendations are made.

But doctors say all medications, over-the-counter and prescription should be used with caution.

"Anything that is taken for pain medication or relief of pain should be used in doses enough to relieve the pain but not in high doses and preferably not in large doses over a long period of time," said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson said if you're a chronic pain sufferer, you should talk to your doctor about other ways to alleviate the pain.

If you do take over-the-counter pain killers regularly, experts say you may want to consider having a hearing test done every six to 12 months.