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Can antibiotics affect our hearing?

"by " Albert Stein

Our ability to hear can be influenced by a great many factors, from noise-induced hearing loss to presbycusis in older age. Because the sensitive hair cells that allow us to hear do not grow back when damaged, it is important to be aware of prevalent risks to our ears. 

Antibiotics, while having an important role to play in the world of medicine, can also represent one of the these risks. As explained by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), there are over 200 medications that are considered ototoxic, or detrimental to our ears*.

They can have a detrimental effect on our hearing by causing damage to our inner ear sensory cells, and now research from the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) has discovered that some patients can be more acutely affected by such medications. 

A study by the OHSU discovered that the risk of hearing loss was greater when antibiotics containing aminoglycosides were administered to patients with dangerous infections. According to the university, the inflammation caused by the infection made the ototoxic effect of the antibiotics more potent. 

"Most instances in which patients are treated with aminoglycosides involve infants with life-threatening infections," explained Professor Peter S. Steygerfrom from OHSU's School of Medicine.

The Professor added that the resulting hearing loss could interfere with infants' educational and social development, thereby impacting their quality of life in years to come. In order to prevent such unnecessary hearing loss, the researchers also called for the development of non-otoxic antibiotic alternatives. 

"We must swiftly bring to clinics everywhere effective alternatives for treating life-threatening infections that do not sacrifice patients' ability to hear," Professor Steygerfrom stated.

If you or someone you know has been struggling with everyday listening situations, it could be time to talk to an audiologist. You can click here or call 1800 340 631 to request appointment with your local Audika clinic.

*ASHA, Ototoxic Medications (Medication Effects). Accessed February, 2016.

*OHSU, Study: Lifesaving antibiotics increase risk of lifelong hearing loss in patients with deadly bacterial infections. Accessed February, 2016.