Popular Pain Relief Linked to Hearing Loss in Women

Pain relief medications and hearing loss

At the first sign of pain, over-the-counter pain relievers are often recommended. Analgesics are the most frequently employed pain relief medications, used to treat a variety of medical conditions.

What the studies show

According to a study by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), women who took NSAIDs such as ibuprofen two or more days per week had an increased risk of hearing loss. The more often a woman took the medications, the higher her risk for hearing loss. Also, the link between these medicines and hearing loss tended to be greater in women younger than 50 years old, especially for those who took ibuprofen six or seven days per week. There was no association between aspirin use and hearing loss. Data was studied from 62,261 women ages 31–48 years old at baseline. The women were followed for 14 years, from 1995 to 2009; 10,012 women self-reported hearing loss.

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen

Compared with women who used ibuprofen fewer than once per week, those who took ibuprofen two to three days per week had a 13% increased risk for hearing loss, while women who used the medication four to five days per week had a 21% increased risk. For those who used ibuprofen six or seven days per week, the increased risk was 24%.  Similar results were found with acetaminophen. “Possible mechanisms might be that NSAIDs may reduce blood flow to the cochlea and impair its function,” said first study author Sharon G. Curhan of BWH’s Channing Division of Network Medicine. “Acetaminophen may deplete factors that protect the cochlea from damage.”

This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “BWH is currently leading a study funded by NIH in over 150,000 women called ‘CHEARS: The Conservation of Hearing Study,’” Dr. Curhan said. “As part of this study, we will perform formal hearing tests in 3,300 women at 16 testing sites across the United States, now and three years from now, to identify factors that may influence early changes in hearing and to prevent further loss. Examples of specific factors that will be examined include use of analgesics, alcohol intake, hormonal factors, and dietary intake.”

More than 50% of American adults suffer from high-frequency hearing loss by the time they reach 60 years old. One-third of women in their 50s and nearly two-thirds in their 60s have experienced hearing loss. According to the World Health Organization, adult-onset hearing loss is the sixth most common disease in high-income countries.

The full study was published in the Sept. 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

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