When Jonathan took a course of erythromycin prescribed by his doctor, the last thing on his mind was that this drug would cause him to lose his hearing in one ear, give him hyperacusis (some normal sounds seem very loud) and balance problems and result in horrific bilateral (in both ears) tinnitus. Drugs and Tinnitus:
Put Yourself in the Driver’s Seat
No one warned Eunice that taking the anti-depressant about the side effects of any drug before you begin drug amitriptyline (Elavil®) would result in screaming taking it. Be particularly cautious until you know that tinnitus, a condition much worse than her original any given drug won’t adversely affect your ears.
depression. Without warning, the drugs prescribed for Jonathan (mentioned above) and Eunice to treat other health issues resulted in loud, intrusive tinnitus, making There are more than 450 prescription and over-the- their lives almost unbearable. These stories are true, though I’ve changed the patients’ names for this article.
counter drugs from acebutolol (Sectral®) to zuclopen-thixol (Clopixol®) that can trigger tinnitus, make exist-ing tinnitus worse or cause another (new) tinnitus sound to appear.
The author’s comprehensive book, Ototoxic Drugs Exposed, describes the Most of the drug classes have tinnitus-causing drugs sprinkled throughout. For example, antibiotics, pain- killers, anti-anxiety and anti-depression drugs, anti- trigger tinnitus, about 300 drugs associ- malarial medications, anti-cancer drugs and blood pressure controlling medications, to name a few, can of drugs that affect balance and cause other ototoxic side effects. This book, as Neil Bauman, Ph.D. well as Dr. Bauman’s When Your Ears Ring (Cope with Your Tinnitus–Here’s How), is available with member discount pricing in the online ATA Store at
Tinnitus arising from taking ototoxic drugs may, or may not, be permanent. The good news is that tinnitus Annual Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) guides are available by resulting from taking such drugs is often temporary contacting ATA at (800) 634-8978 x219 or
and goes away in a few days to a few weeks after you stop taking the drug. For example, ototoxic anti- inflammatories such as acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin), ibuprofen (Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®) generally Ototoxic (OH-toe-TOKS-ik) drugs are those medica- cause temporary tinnitus. But there are no guarantees.
tions that can cause ototoxic (ear damaging) side effects to your ears. Such drugs can cause hearing The bad news is that the resulting tinnitus may be loss, hyperacusis, tinnitus and other phantom sounds permanent. For example, if you are taking an amino- and a whole host of balance problems. This does not glycoside antibiotic, you are lucky if the tinnitus stops happen to everyone who takes drugs, by any means, within a couple of weeks after you finish the drug but it does happen to a significant number of unfortu- therapy. For a good number of people, this kind of Note this well. Even though a drug’s description lists tinnitus as a side effect, this does not mean that you will develop tinnitus if you take it. Some people do. Many don’t. The problem is that you don’t know into Drug-induced tinnitus usually first appears as a con- which class you will fall. Therefore, you should learn tinuous high-pitched sound in both ears. However, and quinine (and related drugs) is generally a Just because a drug label does not list tinnitus as a possible side effect, does not mean it will not cause tinnitus. For example, when Sarah’s doctor doubled her dose of irbesartan (Avapro®), her existing tinnitus became noticeably louder. When she complained to her doctor, he reduced her dose and her tinnitus returned to its previous level. But still, irbesartan is not listed begin taking an ototoxic medication, or it may take several days for it to become obvious to you. For any given medication. For example, Joan takes example, tinnitus from loop diuretics may start just celecoxib (Celebrex®) for her arthritis. When she minutes after you begin receiving them intrave- takes it, her tinnitus gets louder, but her arthritis nously (directly into a vein). In contrast, tinnitus may pain improves. She chooses the increased tinnitus not show up until two or three days after taking an (which doesn’t really bother her) over the arthritis aminoglycoside antibiotic. Strangely enough, with pain (which she definitely doesn’t like). That is her certain drugs, such as the benzodiazepines (a class of choice, and she is content to live with it.
tranquilizers), tinnitus may only start after you have Harold, on the other hand, began taking amitrip- tyline and soon noticed he had severe tinnitus. As he says, his tinnitus was driving him “buggy,” so he contacted me for help. I suggested the amitriptyline Hearing loss and tinnitus often go together. I have might be causing his tinnitus. With his doctor’s seen it reported that about 70 percent of people permission, he stopped taking the drug. Twelve days with hearing loss also have tinnitus. Therefore, if later, he joyfully reported that his tinnitus went away. you preserve your hearing, you can help yourself That was his choice and he is glad he made it.
avoid unnecessary tinnitus. To this end, you should When it comes to your ears, don’t let ototoxic drugs be aware that there are around 300 drugs associated flip your world upside down! Remain in the driver’s with hearing loss. Taking such drugs may result in seat and take control by reading, asking questions and making the best choices you can.
Tinnitus often precedes or accompanies hearing Neil Bauman, Ph.D. is the Executive Director of loss. In fact, tinnitus is the number one indicator the Center for Hearing Loss Help. His mission is that you may be doing damage to your ears from educating and helping people successfully live an ototoxic drug. It also may be the only warning with their hearing losses, tinnitus and other ear conditions. Dr. Bauman is both a speaker and the author of ten books and hundreds of articles What You Can Do About Tinnitus
Knowledge is power. When you are aware of the
many drugs that can damage your ears, and the
many risk factors that can make you even more


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