Loss of hearing in the ears

Hearing loss or balance disorders have serious communication, education, and social consequences. One of the reasons causing this damage is ototoxicity. Although the benefits of ototoxic drugs outweigh their risks, it should not be ignored. This is so because when permanent and extensive ototoxicity occurs, the effects take a terrible toll on the individual’s way of living. 

What is ototoxicity?

The word ‘Ototoxicity’ is made up of two words- oto which means ear and toxicity which means poisoning. So in simple terms, ototoxicity refers to the poisoning of the ear. This can be due to continuous exposure to drugs or chemicals that can damage the inner ear or the nerve that sends signals from the inner ear to the brain. 

An interesting fact you should know is that the ear not only helps to hear but also to maintain balance in the body. Hence, when ototoxicity occurs in the ear it impacts either one or both the functions. 

The severity and occurrence of the poisoning of the ear depend upon the drug consumed as well as other factors as heredity. 

The condition of ototoxicity can be permanent or temporary. This is so because certain medications induce some effects that are temporary while some medicines can incur permanent changes to the ear. It should be noted here that the majority of people who have been diagnosed with ototoxicity suffer from the reversible form. Therefore, if you have the reversible one then relax as the problem is completely curable. 

Ototoxicity can be of two types-

  • Cochleotoxicity– It is the poisoning of the cochlea, the hearing apparatus of the ear which results in difficulty to hear.
  • Vestibular toxicity– It is the poisoning of the vestibular-cochlear nerve which affects the organs known to maintain balance. 

Also Read: Ear infection map – inner, middle and outer!

How does it occur?

Several medications including over-the-counter drugs, prescription medicines, and environmental chemicals have ototoxic potential. The following medications can increase the risk of ototoxicity-

aspirin medicines

  • Aspirin and quinine

These medicines are known to cause temporary ototoxicity which can lead to tinnitus. You can have a reduced hearing, especially when you consume these medicines in high dosages. Products of quinine such as chloroquine, quinidine, quinine or tonic water can reduce balance ability. Hence, stopping these products’ usage generally disappears the problem.

  • Loop diuretics

These cause temporary ototoxicity when consumed in high amounts. Symptoms that you can feel are decreased hearing as well as ringing in the ears (Tinnitus). If you stop consuming these medicines, the symptoms can get reversed. 

  • Aminoglycoside antibiotics

They incur permanent changes when this medicine enters the inner ear. The changes that are likely to occur are permanent hearing loss and maintaining proper balance. These drugs can enter the inner ear either through the bloodstream or inhaling.

  • Anti-cancer drugs

These drugs are administered to kill cancerous cells but sometimes, they can damage or kill cells somewhere else in the body, including the ears. These are known to cause either massive or permanent hearing loss.

  • Environmental chemicals

Chemicals that are found in the environment such as mercury, carbon disulfide, carbon monoxide, lead are hazardous to health. Hence, exposure to these chemicals in any way can be fatal. There can be hearing disturbances which can be permanent.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of ototoxicity can develop over time or occur suddenly-

ringing in the ears

  • Continuous ringing, whizzing, buzzing, hissing, roaring in the ears- Tinnitus
  • Minimum hearing loss 
  • Problem maintaining balance
  • Difficulty in hearing in either one or both the ears
  • Vertigo
  • Vomiting and eye jerking
  • Headache
  • A feeling of ear fullness
  • Imbalance such that you are unable to walk
  • Bouncing and blurring of vision
  • Walking with the legs apart normal than usual
  • Difficulty walking in the dark
  • Lightheadedness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Fatigue 
  • Permanent deafness 

What is the treatment?

Hearing aids

There are no treatment options to reverse the damage to the hearing. The treatment options that are currently available focus on reducing the damage to the ear and restoring its functions. The following devices can help achieve these functions-

  • Amplification device- Doctors recommend this electronic device as this reduces background noise. It helps the person with hearing problems to hear better. This simply works by amplifying the sound or increasing the loudness of the sound that is reaching the ear. 
  • Hearing aids- This hearing device has three parts- a microphone that catches the surrounding sound,  an amplifier that increases the sound and a receives which sends these sounds into the ear. 
  • Cochlear implants- These devices need to be implanted surgically. These work by bypassing the signals from the damaged inner ear directly to the auditory nerve. 

Sometimes the problem is not related to the hearing problem but rather maintaining balance. In such cases, vestibular therapy is prescribed. The therapy includes exercises that help balancing and coordination. Majority of these exercises include-

  • Bending down
  • Standing or walking with eyes wide open and then eyes closed
  • Position the head at different angles to remove fluid or debris from certain parts of the ear. 

How to prevent Ototoxicity?

Sometimes ototoxicity can prove to be fatal. Major accidents can occur when you are walking on the road and you are unable to hear or walk properly. Hence, preventing the problem at all is the best you can do. Try these tips to prevent ototoxicity-

  • Consume prescribed drugs that are essential for the body. 
  • Don’t consume a mix of medicines which increase the chances of ototoxicity.
  • Make sure there is good ventilation when you are using airborne diseases. Either open the windows, turn on the fan don’t use the chemical at all. 
  • Keep yourself hydrated. So drink lots of water.

Hearing loss or balance disorders have serious communication, education, and social consequences. One of the reasons causing this damage is ototoxicity. Although the benefits of ototoxic drugs outweigh their risks, it should not be ignored. This is so because when permanent and extensive ototoxicity occurs, the effects take a terrible toll on the individual’s way of living.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *