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Can Painkillers Cause Hearing Loss in Women?

A study by researchers at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) found that women who took ibuprofen or acetaminophen, two of the most commonly used painkillers, two or more days a week had an increased risk of hearing loss.

Beginning in 1995, the study followed 62,261 women ages 31 to 48 until 2009 and examined each woman’s frequency of taking aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen. At that time, 10,012 women reported hearing loss.

Compared to women who used ibuprofen less than once a week, those who took it two to three days a week had a 13% increased risk of developing hearing loss. Women who used the painkiller four to five days per week had a 21% increased risk. Compared to women who took acetaminophen less than once per week, those who took it two to three days a week had an 11% increased risk of developing hearing loss, and women who took it four to five days a week had a 21% increased risk.

Notably, there was no reported link between aspirin and hearing loss.

Sharon G. Curhan, of BWI’s Channing Division of Network Medicine and the first author of this study, said that the “possible mechanisms might be that NSAIDs may reduce blood flow to the cochlea and impair its function. Acetaminophen may deplete factors that protect the cochlea from damage.”

The risk is rooted in how often a woman takes the medication. For instance, the correlation between the drugs and hearing loss seems to be more apparent in women younger than 50 who took the pain killers up to seven days a week.

This study is not the first to examine the correlation between hearing loss and women. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), as part of the National Institutes of Health, recently announced findings of a strong association between untreated hearing loss and depression in US adults, particularly women. The Better Hearing Institute published research that showed women who address their hearing loss and utilize solutions, such as hearing devices, can experience a greater quality of life.

The full BWI study can be found in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

 

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