Regular use of pain killers like aspirin, acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) ups risk of hearing loss in men below 60.

Hearing loss is the most common sensory disorder in the US, afflicting over 36 million people. Not only is hearing loss highly prevalent among the elderly, but approximately a third of those aged 40-49 years already suffer hearing loss.

Even mild hearing loss can compromise the ability to understand speech in the presence of background noise or multiple speakers, leading to social isolation, depression, and poorer quality of life.

Investigators from Harvard University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Vanderbilt University and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, looked at factors other than age and noise that might influence the risk of hearing loss.

Aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are the three most commonly used drugs in the US. The ototoxic effects of aspirin are well known and the ototoxicity of NSAIDs has been suggested, but the relation between acetaminophen and hearing loss has not been examined previously.

Ototoxicity is damage to the ear, specifically the cochlea or auditory nerve by a toxin. The relationship between these drugs and hearing loss is an important public health issue.

Participants were drawn from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which tracked over 26,000 men every two years for 18 years. A questionnaire determined analgesic use, hearing loss and a variety of physiological, medical and demographic factors.

For aspirin, regular users under 50 and those aged 50-59 years were 33 percent more likely to have hearing loss than were non-regular users, but there was no association among men aged 60 years and older.

For NSAIDs, regular users aged under 50 were 61 percent more likely, those aged 50-59 were 32 percent more likely, and those aged 60 and older were 16 percent more likely to develop hearing loss than non-regular users of NSAIDs, says a Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital press release.

For acetaminophen, regular users aged under 50 were 99 percent more likely, regular users aged 50-59 were 38 percent more likely, and those aged 60 and older were 16 percent more likely to have hearing loss than non-regular users of acetaminophen.

These findings were published in the American Journal of Medicine.

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