Ototoxic Medications and Hearing Loss


There are certain medications which have the potential to cause toxic reaction to the inner structures of the ear, including the cochlea, vestibule, otoliths and circular canals, are considered ototoxic. Some of the chemical agents which can ototoxicity are:

  • Antibiotics: Certain type of antibiotics which are in aminoglycoside class, such as tobramycin and gentamicin, may produce cochlear toxicity (cochleotoxicity) due to poorly understood mechanism.

  • Loop Diuretics: The loop diuretic furosemide is linked with ototoxicity, particularly when dosage exceeds 240 mg per hour.

  • Chemotherapeutic Agents: Chemotherapeutic agents which contain platinum, including carboplatin and cisplatin, are linked with cochleotoxicity characterized by high-frequency hearing loss (deafness) and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

  • Others: Quinine (to treat malaria) and heavy metals such as mercury and lead are also associated with ototoxicity. At high dosage, aspirin and other salicylates may lead to high pitch tinnitus and hearing loss in both ears. Generally such kind of hearing loss/impairment is reversible upon discontinuation of the drug.

For the detailed list of ototix medicines which may cause deafness, please visit the link.

The Ear, Hearing and Ototoxity

The damage induced due to the intake of medication (drugs) to the structures of auditory and balance system of the inner ear can cause hearing loss, tinnnitus and dysequilibrium or dizziness

Ototoxic medications can cause damage to the sensory cells which are located in the inner ear, used in hearing and balance.

The initial symptoms of ototoxicity is tinnitus (ringing in the ears), which may later cause hearing loss. Sometimes the hearing loss gets unnoticed unless the ability to understand speech of the person is affected.


Sometimes as soon as the drug therapy is discontinued, the hearing and balance problems caused as a result of ototoxic medications can be reversed. However, sometimes the damage is permanent.

There is lots of research being done, to develop ways, to protect people from the effects of ototoxicity. But, till now there are no approved protective measures.

There are over 200 medications and chemicals that are recognized to cause hearing and balance problems. It is vital to understand and discuss with your doctor the potential for hearing and balance damage of any drug you are prescribed. But sometimes you don't have any choice as the treatment with a particular medication might provide the best possible way to cure life threatening diseases or stopping life threatening infections