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Warning: Opiate Painkillers Can Damage Hearing

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There’s already a wealth of information available about the dangers of prescription painkillers. From liver damage to depression, opiates like Percocet and Oxycontin have been linked to a myriad of unwanted side effects. And now it looks like we can add one more to the list: hearing loss.

Can You Hear Me Now?

New research has uncovered an alarming trend among people who chronically use pain reliever products, particularly the ones containing ibuprofen and acetaminophen (better known by its brand name, Tylenol). Multiple studies indicate that hearing loss is an unforeseen and unintended side effect of these pain medications and, unfortunately, the more you take, the worse it gets. There are even reports of opiate addicts going completely deaf…permanently.

Multiple studies indicate that hearing loss is an unforeseen and unintended side effect of these pain medications and, unfortunately, the more you take, the worse it gets.

The most in-depth study of this hearing-related mystery was conducted by researchers at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH). The scientists evaluated a group of women who took ibuprofen or acetaminophen products on two or more days per week. The more often these medications are taken, the greater the hearing loss.

What’s more, the link between these pain medications and the resulting hearing loss was found to be much stronger among younger women, especially those who took ibuprofen products six or seven days out of the week.

Surprisingly, there was no association between aspirin use and hearing loss.

Rationalizing the Data

The root cause of this hearing impairment is still unknown, but experts suggest it could be caused by poor circulation. Acetaminophen pain relievers are known to slow down circulation in the peripheral capillaries – including the tiny capillaries within the ear. If the ears are not supplied with an adequate blood flow, it could lead to hearing loss.

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

Combination Pain Relievers

…when these medications are abused, addicts can end up taking near-lethal doses of acetaminophen on a daily basis.

Similar to over-the-counter pain relievers, most opiate painkillers contain acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Although the FDA requires combination opiate pain relievers to have no more than 325 mg of acetaminophen per pill, when these medications are abused, addicts can end up taking near-lethal doses of acetaminophen on a daily basis.

Nearly half of all liver failure cases in the U.S. are caused by an overdose from prescription opiates containing acetaminophen. When the added risk of hearing loss is factored in, narcotic combination painkillers are clearly proving to be much more dangerous than we ever dreamed.

Learn more about the treatment options for prescription painkiller addiction

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