Over the counter painkillers can provide necessary relief. Data from past National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys have shown that more than 80% of women aged 25 years or older reported having used non-prescription painkillers within the past month. While these medications can alleviate discomfort and pain, it is important to be aware of other effects they can have. Studies have shown that taking over the counter medications like ibuprofen just twice a week can damage hearing health for women.
Link Between Painkillers and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a pervasive health issue people experience. Over 48 million people have some degree of hearing loss which reduces a person’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. Extensive research focuses on ways to reduce one’s risk of developing hearing loss which is a permanent condition. Studies show that painkiller use is a risk factor for hearing loss, highlighting that painkiller use increases the risk of developing impaired hearing.
A significant study that investigates the link between painkillers and hearing loss was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. This study involved 55,850 women between the ages of 44 and 69. After collecting data on painkiller use, researchers found that regular use – defined as two or more days per week – of painkillers contributed to:
- 9% higher chance of hearing loss for paracetamol (ingredient in tylenol) use over 6 years, compared with less than one year of regular use.
- 10% higher change of hearing loss with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen) used over 6 years. And 8% increased risk for use 1 -4 years.
This data shows that use of painkillers contributed to an increased risk of developing hearing loss. Researchers also identified that nearly 1 in 20 (5.5%) cases of hearing loss could have resulted from painkiller use. These findings reveal a coronation between painkiller use and hearing loss.
Impact of Painkillers on Hearing Health
You are likely wondering how painkillers can impact hearing health. Painkillers reduce inflammation which relieves pain. But these medications can also affect the inner ear – where sound is processed – in a few ways that can impact hearing health. Experts suggest that painkillers can restrict blood flow in the inner ear which can damage the sensory cells that process incoming soundwaves. Additionally, painkillers can damage the protective tissue that lines the ear canal and inner ear. These effects can impact sound being absorbed and processed effectively.
The outer portion of the ear absorbs soundwaves from the environment which travel through the ear canal and reach the inner ear. Sensory cells (there are thousands in each ear) in the inner ear convert these soundwaves into electrical signals which get carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals, allowing us to understand what we hear. Restricted blood flow and damaged protective lining can impact these functions and result in hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
If you use painkillers, it is even more important to prioritize and protect your hearing health. You can do this by integrating the following practices:
- Consult your primary care doctor. If you have underlying health issues that you use painkillers to navigate, it is important to discuss the impact this can have with your doctor. Knowing about alternatives and other treatment options for your symptoms is useful.
- Have your hearing tested. It is also important to have your hearing health assessed regularly. Hearing tests are conducted by hearing healthcare specialists who use a painless process to measure hearing capacities in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment present. Even if you do not have hearing loss, getting your hearing assessed regularly is a great way to track your hearing health. Integrating a hearing test in annual health check-ins allows you to identify any changes you may experience over time which supports early intervention.
These strategies are great ways to be proactive about your hearing health and wellness. Contact us today to learn more about the link between painkiller use and hearing loss as well as to schedule an appointment for a hearing consultation. There is a wide range of resources and services available to support your hearing health.