New Study Finds Painkiller Use May Lead to Hearing Loss in Women

New Study Finds Painkiller Use May Lead to Hearing Loss in Women

Whenever we have a headache, mild aches and pains, or muscle cramps most of us don’t think twice about popping a few over-the-counter painkillers and moving on with our day. Perhaps, however, we should pay closer attention – for the sake of our hearing. While the results were not entirely conclusive, researchers have found a correlative relationship between long-term use of painkillers (ibuprofen, NSAIDS and other analgesic drugs) and hearing loss amongst women.

Although the results were not irrefutable enough to cause an immediate alarm for individuals, Harvard Medical School professor and physician makes the following remarks, “Although the magnitude of higher risk of hearing loss with analgesic use was modest, given how commonly these medications are used, even a small increase in risk could have important health implications.” As always, awareness and education are our greatest tools in preventing hearing loss.

Findings Support Current Evidence

Healthcare professionals and research communities have long known about the correlation between ototoxic medication and some antibiotics and increased risk for hearing loss. To delve further in the field of study, researchers decided to focus on women, and compare self-reported hearing loss and their ibuprofen, acetaminophen (i.e. Tylenol) and aspirin use. The study followed 55,850 women and is one of the most large-scale and longest running studies into the health of U.S. women.

The decision to conduct this research makes sense, as currently about two-thirds of women over 60 report some degree of hearing loss in the United States. Use of these common over-the-counter painkillers has also increased dramatically. In 2005, 19% of U.S. adults took aspirin regularly, and 12.1% regularly used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In 2010, these numbers had increased to a whopping 57% and 41% respectively.

Where Did the Research Come from and What Did They Find?

The research was conducted by the Nurses Health Study and was published in American Journal of Epidemiology. As mentioned above, 55,850 women participated in this investigation. The study began in 1976 and at that time, the women all fell between the 44 and 69-year age range. Every two years from 1976, participants were asked about their use of painkillers (ibuprofen, aspirin and/or acetaminophen). In 2012, the women were additionally asked about their hearing health. Researchers balanced other risk factors such as age, weight, alcohol consumption, smoking habits, activity levels, and prevalence of diabetes when making their conclusions.
Their basic findings are as follows: regular use of ibuprofen and acetaminophen was linked to an increased risk of hearing loss; however, aspirin was not. The researchers found the following results.

  • 9% increased risk of hearing loss for regular acetaminophen use of 6 years or more
  • 10% increased risk for hearing loss for regular NSAIDs use over a period of 6 years or more
  • 7-8% increased risk for hearing loss for those who regularly used NSAIDs for four to five years

  • *Regular use is defined as two times or more per week in this study.

    While the numbers may seem scary, researchers were quick to remark that the links between use of these types of painkillers and hearing loss are “modest” and are not cause for immediate alarm. To read the entire study, click here.

    How Do I Protect my Hearing?

    1.  Try monitoring your use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen by making a quick note in your phone or on the door of your medicine cabinet every time you take them.
    2.  If you notice you are regularly using these painkillers two or more times per week, it might be a good time to reach out to your doctor. You and your physician may be able to work out an alternative treatment plan to help you in alleviating or managing the pain without the use of painkillers.
    3.  Talk to your doctor about your concerns before starting or stopping any medication routine. If your doctor has prescribed you or recommended these meds, most likely they have determined that the benefits outweigh the risk factors in your individual situation. It is still crucial to inform your prescribing doctor if you notice any changes in your hearing.

    How Greentree Audiology Can Help

    If you are concerned about your hearing for any reason, reach out to our friendly team today. We look forward to helping you on your journey to better hearing, and thusly a healthier and happier life.

    Greentree Audiology | St. Louis

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