Women who are quick to pop a pill with the slightest hint of pain need to be careful when they search their bedside table for the pack of painkillers the next time. According to a new study, titled “Duration of Analgesic Use and Risk of Hearing Loss in Women,” published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in January 2017, frequent use of over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers including aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) and acetaminophen may lead to hearing loss in women.
A common and disabling chronic condition, it affects over 50 percent of U.S. adults who develop high-frequency hearing loss by 60 years, suggests the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Although hearing loss is more prevalent in men, around one-third of women in their 50s and almost two-thirds of women in their 60s have reported hearing loss.
Prevalence of analgesic use
Use of analgesics is a common practice with aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen being the three most commonly used medications in the United States. The NHANES III reported the use of nonprescription analgesic agents by more than 80 percent of women aged 25 years or older, within the preceding month of the analysis.
As per a 2015 Norwegian survey, 47 percent participants were taking OTC analgesics at least once per week in the last month. With women reporting higher prevalence, 64 percent of individuals taking OTC analgesics suffered from chronic pain while 39.2 percent did not report any chronic pain. Paracetamol was found to be the most used drug with 38.3 percent people reported using it at least once per week in the last month, followed by NSAIDs (18.7 percent) and aspirin (8.1 percent).
Association between frequent use of analgesics and hearing loss
The researchers studied more than 55,000 women to understand the association of hearing loss and OTC medicines. They collected data on usage of aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, and self-reported prevalence of hearing loss. The findings of the study reported an association between the use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen over a longer time and increased risk of hearing loss. However, no significant association was reported between duration of usual-dose aspirin use and hearing loss. In the view of a possible association between frequent use of analgesics and hearing loss, controlling the causal activity can help decrease the prevalence of hearing loss.
A previous study, Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), had also analyzed the possible role of OTC analgesics in contributing to hearing loss in women. The results revealed, “the use of ibuprofen or acetaminophen 2 or more days per week is associated with an increased risk of hearing loss in women and that the magnitude of the risk tends to be greater with increasing frequency of use.”
Further, women younger than age 50 were more likely to develop hearing loss due to ibuprofen and acetaminophen use. However, the association was prevalent only for ibuprofen with more than six days per week usage.
Health and happiness are related
Hearing loss is an important public health concern as it impairs communication and social interaction while adversely affecting work productivity. Studies also link hearing loss with dementia and poor cognitive functioning. It is important to stay positive and abstain from overuse of prescription painkillers, and enjoy the life to the fullest.
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