It’s not uncommon to take a few ibuprofen or paracetamol when you’ve got a headache or fever. Most of us have over-the-counter painkillers in our home for moments like this, and all of these drugs come with warnings on how many one should take during a day. As with most over-the-counter drugs, it is recommended that if your symptoms do not subside after a certain amount of time, you should visit your doctor.
A new study has found that long-term use of painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol could be linked to an increased risk for hearing loss. Regular use, according to this study, is defined as taking these drugs more than two times a week. The results are not concrete, though, so there is no cause for alarm. But if you are experiencing changes in your hearing, it may be worth considering the results of this study.
Study: Duration of Analgesic Use & Risk of Hearing Loss in Women
This new study was conducted in a joint collaboration between the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Vanderbilt University, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The study on the effects of painkillers on hearing loss was a “cohort study,” a study that uses data from a long-running population-based study. The data from cohort studies tends to be useful in revealing patterns and links between factors. In this particular study, researchers analyzed data collected from an ongoing Nurses’ Health Study, which began in 1976. The original study included 121,700 women. For the purposes of this study, researchers honed in on 55,850 women.
These parameters are important to keep in mind because they reveal to us that the study itself was not entirely focused on the risk factors for hearing loss. As such, we should consider the results as a fair warning about painkiller use, but not as a cause for alarm. Researchers made sure to remove certain factors that play into hearing loss, such as age, cancer treatment, hypertension, diabetes, ethnic origin, body mass index, tinnitus, physical activity, and intake of micronutrients in diet linked to hearing. Researchers also excluded study participants who reported hearing loss before 1990.
After these confounding factors were eliminated, researchers found that of the 55,850 women, 33% (18,663 women) reported some level of hearing loss. Again, regular use of painkillers was defined by researchers as two or more times a week. Researchers reported that over six years, regular use of paracetamol was linked to a 9% higher chance of hearing loss (compared to one year of regular use). They also found that regular NSAID (ibuprofen, etc.) use over six years was linked to a 10% higher chance of hearing loss.
Additionally, regular NSAID use for one to four years was linked to a 7% increase, while regular use over five to six years was linked to an 8% increase. One can determine here that the longer women use painkillers regularly, the higher the risk for hearing loss. Researchers concluded that 4% of the cases of hearing loss were the result of NSAID use, while 1.6% were a result of paracetamol use.
What is the Link Between Painkillers and Hearing Loss?
Researchers believe that paracetamol and ibuprofen “damage the ear by removing protection from the inner ear, reducing blood supply, and damaging the tiny hairs that register sound.” Our ears are a self-regulating system, and the inner ear is sensitive environment.
The hair cells of our inner ears are responsible for translating vibrations from our eardrums into neural signals that are registered by our brains as sound. Our inner ear environment requires a healthy supply of oxygen to keep it functioning at its best. This is why a healthy diet and good cardiovascular health contributes to healthy hearing.
What to Do If Your Hearing Abilities Are Changing
For women in this study, data was collected over a long period of time. Hearing loss occurs gradually, especially if it is age-related or noise-induced. While painkillers are only one small factor contributing to hearing loss, it is important to monitor your hearing abilities closely once you reach the age of 50.
Hearing specialists recommend an annual hearing test for people age 50 and above. If you notice your hearing abilities changing, give us a call at Preferred Hearing. We provide comprehensive hearing tests and are happy to answer any questions you have.