woman cupping her ear to listen better because she is hard of hearing

Americans love NSAID pain relievers. Millions take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), or naproxen (Aleve) every day. Millions more swallow NSAID pain relievers their physicians prescribe. These drugs include celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren), etodolac (Lodine), indomethacin (Indocin), meloxicam (Mobic), naproxen (Naprosyn), piroxicam (Feldene) and sulindac (Clinoril). Most people know that such drugs can be hard on the digestive tract. But did you know that these drugs can also be hard on your hearing?

Hearing Loss and NSAID Pain Relievers:

Regular use of NSAID pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen may increase a woman’s risk of hearing loss. That is the finding from analyzing more than six years of data from the Nurses Health Study (American Journal of Epidemiology, online Dec. 14, 2016).

In this research, almost 56,000 women answered questions about their use of over-the-counter pain relievers. Those who used a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (such as ibuprofen) or acetaminophen at least twice a week had a 9 to 10 percent increased chance of developing hearing loss.

This is not the first time we have heard about NSAID pain relievers and hearing. In the 1990s experts were warning (Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America, October, 1993):

“Salicylates and most NSAIDS in high doses cause mild to moderate temporary hearing loss, either flat or greater in the high frequencies. Hearing loss is accompanied by tinnitus [ringing in the ears] and suprathreshold changes.”

In March of 1996, authors writing in the journal Drug Safety noted that Over 130 drugs and chemicals have been reported to be potentially ototoxic [damaging to hearing].” One prominent class of drugs on their list includes NSAID pain relievers, ie, anti-inflammatory drugs.  

Stories from Readers:

It is hard for people to understand how incredibly disruptive tinnitus can be. It not only affects hearing; it can ruin the quality of a person’s life. Here are just a few reports from visitors to this website.

J.C. is caught between two terrible choices:

“I have suffered from migraines since I was a teen. If I catch a headache soon enough, three Advil will stop it. It’s better than taking Imitrex and feeling out of it all day.

“I now have severe tinnitus and hearing loss in my left ear. I’ve been to every doctor, had an MRI, and found nothing. I would like to stop taking Advil so I don’t get tinnitus in my right ear but I have no idea what pain reliever is safe for me to take.”

Frances in California shared this:

“My mother had tinnitus for 30 years before she died in April. No doctor could ever help her suffering with the constant ringing in her ears. No one could ever give her a reason for her having the problem, either. She told me that I’d probably, eventually, have it, too. (A doctor told her that it was genetic).

“She took an overabundance of pain meds throughout her life thinking there would be no side effects.”

M.A. says:

“I have the same problem with ringing in the my ears if I take Tylenol.”

What About Acetaminophen?

Most people assume that the ingredient in Tylenol, acetaminophen, is super safe. An overview of epidemiological studies suggests that there may very well be a link between acetaminophen and hearing loss (Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, March, 2015).

“This systematic review evaluated the impact of NSAIDs and acetaminophen on sensorineural hearing loss. Overall, the data were frequently limited by the method of hearing evaluation or sample sizes. These data also varied, demonstrating a measurable effect on self-reported symptoms from NSAIDs as a class, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen but without audiometric data to confirm this suggested audiometric effect…

When multiple NSAIDs were evaluated together, self-reported hearing results suggested an approximately 20% risk increase, but audiometric data have yet to corroborate these findings; the extent of the potentially associated hearing loss also remains uncharacterized. Similarly, self-reported hearing results regarding ibuprofen suggest a 13% to 24% associated increase in risk of hearing loss in large prospective studies, but studies with formal audiometric measurements have yet to confirm this finding.”

The study just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology pretty much confirmed those findings.

What Can People in Pain Do?

Millions of people are in pain. NSAIDs not only appear to affect some people’s hearing, they have other side effects as well. Adverse reactions from NSAID pain relievers include high blood pressure, edema, heart attacks, strokes, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, indigestion, ulcers, perforation of the stomach or intestines, kidney damage, liver damage and blood disorders (anemia).

Short-term use of NSAIDs in low doses are unlikely to cause many of these complications. And a 10 percent increase in hearing problems is quite modest. But considering how many people use an NSAID on a regular basis, it could still end up with a lot of people straining to hear.

A nurse is caught between a rock and a hard place:

“I have taken Advil for years for inflammation or pain. I have stopped because I began to have ringing in the ears, ear pain, dizziness and loss of hearing. This all disappeared when I stopped the Advil.

“I just assume that I can’t take NSAIDS anymore. What do you recommend I take for problems with heel spurs, disc problems and torn cartilage in the knee? I am an RN and do a lot of walking and lifting at work.”

Some people may benefit from topical NSAIDs like Voltaren Gel or Pennsaid. They are less likely to get into the blood stream in levels that can cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

There are a great many nondrug options for dealing with inflammation and arthritis pain. Some people find that home remedies like gin-soaked raisins are helpful. Others like Certo and grape juice, Knox Gelatine, or vinegar and juice. Herbs and spices such as turmeric, Boswellia, ginger and Ashwagandha may also be helpful.

You can learn more about home remedies and the medicinal value of kitchen spices in our books:

The People’s Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies

and

Spice Up Your Health: How Everyday Kitchen Herbs & Spices Can Lengthen & Strengthen Your Life

Share your own experience with NSAIDs and hearing in the comment section below.

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  1. Judy
    Winston Salem NC
    Reply

    Wow — when I went to the ENT about the ringing in my ears, he never questioned anything I was taking — I had stopped taking 81 mg a day aspirin because I heard it could cause the ringing. Stopped aspirin, still have ringing. The doctor told me that my hearing was fine except in one tone — he showed me on the imaging they did… he said he thought my ears were trying to “make” that lost tone and that I probably damaged my ears with loud music (I am now 61). My pain is SO MUCH less if I take diclofenac once or twice a day — but it seems everything one takes causes a problem. Perhaps we are just living longer than our bodies were meant for!!

  2. Bonnie
    CA
    Reply

    If I take Bayer Aspirin (or any aspirin) more than two days in a row, the pain in my right ear begins to hurt almost unbearably. I seldom take aspirin — I hate taking pills! — but I do have to wear 2 hearing aids due to hearing loss. Cannot attribute it to aspirin I wouldn’t think.

  3. Louise
    Carbondale, IL
    Reply

    After years of taking Aleve twice a day to alleviate hip and back pain plus arthritic pain in both hands, I began to show a decrease in kidney function. A little Aspercreme on my hands until they get “warmed up” helps a little. Tart cherry juice at bedtime helps me to sleep more soundly and seems to help hands a bit. For hip-back my Dr. prescribed Tramadol as much as 3 times a day but I will take only once with a Tylenol which she said will boost effect. IF ONLY someone would come up with an nsaid that includes something to protect kidney function! Also have a gripe about Darvocet taken off market. It was effective for more serious temporary pain occasions. Not many options left for those of us wanting to avoid the heavy-hitters.

  4. Susan
    Reply

    Very interesting. I’d not heard this before. I’ve taken high doses of naproxen (Aleve) for at least 10 years – 4 tabs a day on the advice of my rheumatologist, in addition to other DMARDs. In the last few years, I’ve had noticeable hearing loss, which has frustrated me greatly, since unlike many of my baby boom generation, I don’t like loud music and generally have always avoided loud noises (ie. fireworks). Finally, an explanation for this hearing loss!

    BTW, due to anti-inflammatory dietary changes, I’ve been able to completely drop the naproxen (about 6 months ago) but have not noticed any improvement in my hearing.

  5. Louise
    Texas
    Reply

    After knee replacement surgery, my Doctor told me to take 3 or 4 ibuprofen every 4 hours for pain. It did not help the pain but I developed severe ringing in my ears. After a few years of no ibuprofen the ringing has almost stopped.

  6. Karen P
    Seattle, WA
    Reply

    I found Certo and grape juice to be very helpful in eliminating arthritic aches and pains. Then I began the Always Hungry? way of eating which focuses on eliminating sugars and grains and have not only lost those aches and pains but have enjoyed losing all my excess weight and being able to live a healthy life. Dr. Ludwig was on People’s Pharmacy last year with this information.

  7. Suzanne
    Georgia
    Reply

    Seems like it’s all bad news about NSAIDS? What about aspirin? I see your article mentioned salicylates (which would include aspirin) but it doesn’t elaborate? NSAIDs apparently also increase chances of a heart attack.

    • Terry Graedon
      Reply

      Although aspirin does not increase the risk of clots that could cause heart attacks and strokes (it is actually protective), it can cause hearing loss.

  8. Linda
    CO
    Reply

    I don’t see aspirin listed as a possible culprit for hearing loss. I switched from aspirin to ibuprofen because aspirin caused temporary ringing in my ears after taking it. Now after 3 years of taking ibuprofen (every day), I feel like I have permanent “pressure” in my ears and definitely have hearing loss. I also suffer from dizziness most day and sometimes vertigo. I will stop ibuprofen immediately after reading this, but is there anything to counteract the ear pressure and dizziness?

  9. KATHLEEN
    webster, ny
    Reply

    My doctor did tell me that Advil raises blood pressure. So, I take a baby aspirin every day. That seems to help with pain and blood pressure.

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