Long-term use of acetaminophen and NSAIDs linked to hearing loss in adults

New study brings up questions about modifiable risk factors for hearing loss

To identify some of the risk factors that contribute to hearing loss, researchers investigated the relationship between duration of analgesic use and self-reported hearing loss. They found that regular, long-term use of NSAIDs and acetaminophen was associated with slightly higher risks of hearing loss in women. Aspirin use showed no association, however.

The findings were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Approximately 15% of American adults aged 18 years and older report some trouble hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“By no means does our study or data support that you shouldn’t take, or not take, these medications. It’s more about bringing risks to life,” the study’s lead author Brian M. Lin, MD, of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, told Pharmacy Today.

Dixie Leikach, BSPharm, MBA, FACA, owner of Finksburg Pharmacy in Maryland, said that more information and further study are needed before she would counsel a female patient to avoid these products completely.

“I have questions about the study, such as: What was the level of hearing loss? How much of the analgesics were taken? What other risk factors are in place? And, obviously for me, what is the patient's family history?” she said.

Leikach has hereditary hearing loss herself. She said the study makes her less inclined to reach for these OTC products when perhaps a nonpharmacological intervention would be a better place to start.

“As a community pharmacist, [I believe] this study is something to keep an eye on and follow. We consistently learn that moderation and awareness are the key in many areas of health,” she said.

Researchers used data from the Nurses’ Health Study to investigate the relationship between duration of analgesic use and hearing loss. More than 55,000 women aged 44–69 years participated in the study. After answering questions about incident hearing loss and how often they took NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and aspirin, 19,000 women indicated they had developed hearing loss during the 873,376 person–years of follow-up (1990–2012).

Study authors concluded that “considering the high prevalence of analgesic use and the high probability of frequent and/or prolonged exposure in women of more advanced age,” their findings suggest that “NSAID use and acetaminophen use may be modifiable risk factors for hearing loss.”