Antibiotics are a medical marvel, a crucial weapon in the fight against bacteria. But certain types can be harmful to your hearing. If you’ve been prescribed antibiotics in Lake Charles, it’s important you have a thorough understanding of the potential harm these drugs can cause you.
Ototoxic Drugs & Hearing Impairment
Ototoxicity refers to the ability of a certain substance to cause harm to hearing, usually the cochlea or auditory nerve. Health professionals have identified over 200 drugs that are ototoxic. The most common ones include quinine, chemotherapy drugs, loop diuretics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and broad-spectrum antibiotics. Any of these can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Broad-spectrum antibiotics are effective in targeting a wide range of bacteria, while narrow-spectrum antibiotics focus on specific microbes. Among the broad-spectrum antibiotics, one group called aminoglycosides is commonly used in children – particularly gentamicin. These drugs are often used to treat infection in neonatal intensive care units, where infants are in danger of dying if the bacteria affecting them aren’t identified quickly. Aminoglycosides solve this problem by fighting off many different types of bacteria, but unfortunately, their use can damage hearing. Studies show that children who are given gentamicin and similar broad-spectrum antibiotics are six times more likely to develop hearing loss than healthy babies with normal hearing.
A research team from Creighton University in Nebraska wanted to learn more about how certain antibiotics can damage hearing. Led by Peter Steyger, the team tested gentamicin on mice in order to study its effects. They learned that inflammation from infection caused ion channels in the hair cells of the cochlea to better absorb antibiotics, increasing their toxic effect. A particular protein called TRPV1 had an especially pronounced effect on the ion channels. It allowed gentamicin to enter the cochlea more easily when inflammation was occurring. The team bred certain mice without this protein and found that this group of genetically-altered mice were immune to hearing impairment.
The team’s research illustrates the importance of using narrow-spectrum antibiotics to treat patients with infection whenever possible. Doing so greatly lowers the risk of hearing loss in patients experiencing body-wide infections.
Sometimes, doctors have no choice but to use aminoglycosides and other broad-spectrum antibiotics such as gentamicin. If there are no other options, at least they should be prepared to monitor these patients vigilantly for indications of hearing loss and treat the impairment as soon as possible.
“This is especially important in children learning to listen and speak,” Steyger cautions, “where delay in identifying hearing loss has lifelong consequences including delayed acquisition of spoken language, less academic success and reduced income.”
He and his team are pushing for new techniques that would enable doctors to more quickly identify bacteria causing infections to eliminate the need for broad-spectrum antibiotics.
To learn more about the link between antibiotics and hearing, contact a Lake Charles hearing specialist.