A few weeks ago, I had house guests and one of them asked if I had any sort of pain reliever on hand. I went scouring in all of the medicine cabinets and couldn’t find any. They thought it was strange, but since I never use over-the-counter pain medications, I just don’t keep them in the house.
Yes, that’s right…I never use Tylenol…or Advil…or Aleve…or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID). And there’s a very good reason for that.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Despite being the most widely sold drugs in America, NSAIDs are not as safe as people think.
In fact, they’re rife with risks and side effects. And I’m not just talking about minor inconveniences like an upset stomach.
I’m talking about serious, potentially life-threating events like heart attack, stroke, bleeding ulcers, liver failure, and more. The risks are so great that even the FDA got on board by requiring the drugs to carry warnings on their labels.
And now there’s one more risk to add to the already daunting list: hearing loss.
In a recent paper published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, researchers analyzed data from more than 55,000 participants in an offshoot of the long-term Nurses’ Health Study called the Conservation of Hearing Study (CHEARS). They looked at how hearing loss was related to use of acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil and Aleve.
They found women who used non-aspirin pain relievers for six years or more had significantly higher risk of hearing loss than those who used them for one year or less. In addition, people who used NSAIDs or acetaminophen two or more days a week were more likely to have hearing loss than those who used them less than two days a week.
(The researchers didn’t find a link between hearing loss and aspirin, but that doesn’t mean it’s a safe alternative. Aspirin comes with a potentially deadly increased risk of internal bleeding. That’s why I never recommend it to my patients.)
But the news isn’t as bleak as it seems. In fact, these findings offer a potentially huge silver lining…
They show that a significant portion of the hearing loss in this country could be prevented — simply by avoiding NSAIDs.
The researchers suspect that these drugs affect hearing by increasing oxidative stress, which makes the ears more susceptible to damage from noise.
So once again, oxidative stress rears its ugly head. I’m starting to believe there isn’t a single chronic condition that isn’t related to oxidative stress.
But there was one other interesting takeaway from this study I wanted to share with you. And that was what the researchers left out…
To make sure the effects they were seeing were actually related to pain med use and not something else, the researchers took into account all the other known risk factors for hearing loss. But while those risk factors may not apply to the results of this study, they may very well apply to you.
For instance, you may not have realized that body mass index, waist circumference, alcohol consumption, diet, potassium and magnesium intake, physical activity levels, smoking, diabetes, and hypertension can all up your risk of hearing loss.
But again, I see this as good news. Because most of these variables are things you can control. Which means hearing loss is far more preventable than we may have ever realized.
So again, it all comes down to eating right, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise. And whatever you do, stop reaching for pain medications at every turn. Even though these drugs are available over-the-counter, they are still drugs.