Ototoxicity (hearing toxicity)

General or Other | - Others | Ototoxicity (hearing toxicity) (Disease)


Ototoxicity is, quite simply, ear poisoning, which results from exposure to drugs or chemicals that damage the inner ear or the vestibulo-cochlear nerve. Because the inner ear is involved in both hearing and balance, ototoxicity can result in disturbances of either or both of these senses.

Causes and Risk factors

The parts of the brain that receive hearing and balance information from the inner ear can also be affected by poison, but this is not technically considered ototoxicity and won’t be covered in this information sheet. The degree of damage to the ear depends on what type of drug taken, in which quantity, and for how long.

Ototoxicity can be temporary or permanent. The effect of certain drugs is often temporary, while other drugs typically produce permanent changes to the ear. Some drugs can cause either temporary or permanent problems. It is important to note here that the broad majority of people who experience ototoxicity have a temporary or reversible form that does not result in a major or long-term disruption in their lives.

Some people may notice obvious hearing problems, usually in both ears (called bilateral hearing loss). They may have trouble hearing certain things, from high-pitched sounds to talking if there is background noise. Or they may have tinnitus, which can cause not just that annoying ringing in the ears, but other strange sounds like hissing, buzzing, humming, and roaring. Sometimes, though, there is only limited damage, and kids might not even notice a problem. Or they might just have a hard time hearing high-frequency sounds while everything else sounds perfectly clear.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Although research continues on drugs to prevent or reverse ototoxicity, currently there is no surefire way to reverse it. The good news, though, is that the ear might just need time to heal.

And some people may have no further hearing or balance problems if they can stop taking the medication that is causing their symptoms. Doctors may be able to help keep problems due to ototoxicity from getting worse by changing the dosage or medication. However, that is not always possible — certain drugs are crucial to fighting specific infections or diseases, which may mean that switching to a different drug or reducing the dose just isn't an option. These people may benefit from auditory or listening therapy and speech (lip) reading.

Those with serious damage to the inner ear also may need an amplification device, hearing aid, or cochlear implant. ...

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