October 19, 2017
A few years ago, I heard a story of a gentleman who came in with terrible hearing loss. He was very nice, very funny and sociable, but he could only carry a conversation with you if he was looking directly at you while wearing the highest power hearing aids available at the time. The moment he looked away, he wouldn’t even know that you were still speaking. I was very interested in how his hearing loss came to be; he was so articulate, I knew it must have come on suddenly after he had been able to hear for years. I was told that when he was serving overseas, he had received a leg injury which became badly infected. His doctor told him that he had two choices: they could amputate the leg, or he could take a powerful medication that would save his leg, but wipe out his hearing. He chose his leg.
Ototoxicity refers to drug- or chemical-related damage to the inner ear, causing hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance disorders that may be temporary or permanent. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), more than 200 medications are known to have ototoxic side effects, including certain aminoglycoside antibiotics (such as gentamicin), cancer chemotherapy drugs, and loop diuretics. Even aspirin, if taken long enough and in high enough doses, can cause intermittent hearing loss and tinnitus, but these typically fade once those high doses are no longer being taken.
If you notice that your hearing or balance has changed, or if you are beginning to develop tinnitus after starting a new medication, call your doctor right away and see if there is another option that does not have ototoxic side effects. Do not stop taking a medication without first consulting your physician. If you have any questions about a medication you are currently taking, your physician or pharmacist is the best person to help you.
Fun Hearing Fact: Believe it or not, we don’t actually hear with our ears! The part of the body we call the “ear” consists of three parts: the outer ear that we see on the side of the head, the middle ear which is the space behind the eardrum and contains the middle ear bones, and the inner ear which is a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea. These three parts are simply an ingenious way to transform soundwave energy into electrochemical energy so our brain can hear it. Our brain is what actually interprets, categorizes, and responds to sound, not our ears! If you have any questions about this process, we do offer a free seminar every other month. Give us a call to sign up at (541) 228-9233!