Listen Up! 8 Ways to Lose Your Hearing

"When you've got a truck next to you, it's deafening," Fletcher agreed. "It's the most awful thing, and you just want to get away as quick as you can."

Although Fletcher is not sure that driving his convertible several days each week will cause deafness, he said many owners know a convertible is not the best way to protect hearing.

"It's hard to say. I don't think my hearing is quite as good as it used to be," Fletcher said. "It hasn't gotten to a point where it's interfering with my daily life. But it's probably contributed in a negative way over the years."

Drugs

One of the lesser-known side effects of several types of drugs, including pain medications, certain antibiotics and platinum-based chemotherapy drugs, is hearing loss.

A three-year Vicodin addiction left Shannon Menosky, 40, from Riverside, Calif., deaf. Her habit, which at its peak was 50 pills a day, gradually killed the delicate hair cells in her inner ear until, after a month of deteriorating hearing, Menosky woke up to total silence.

"It was kind of gradual," said Menosky. She first noticed that it was difficult to talk on the phone, that her children had to shout to get her attention and that she had to turn up the volume on the television. "And then I woke up one morning and there was literally nothing," Menosky said.

Her doctors at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles said her hearing loss was permanent and would require a cochlear implant to restore it. Menosky said she broke down.

"Once I lost my hearing, I think I started taking Vicodin more," Menosky said. "I wouldn't leave the house. I was depressed that I couldn't hear my children or my family."

Medications that are ototoxic have chemical properties that make them toxic to the sensory cells in the ear.

Classes of drugs famous for this side effect include strong aminoglycoside antibiotics that are used in cases of life-threatening infections, such as a bone infection.

"These cause irreversible deafness," said Dr. Steven D. Rauch, professor of otology and laryngology at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. It can be very rapid, very quick and very permanent."

Strong pain medications like Vicodin and oxycontin can kill inner ear cells, but over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can also cause hearing loss to a lesser degree. High doses of mild pain medication may cause ringing in the ears before it begins to affect actual hearing and will go away after discontinuing use.

Platinum-based chemotherapy drugs are another class of ototoxic drugs because heavy metals build up on the hair cells and poison them.

Smoking

While the lungs and heart take the brunt of damage from smoking, the ears can be affected as well.

One blood vessel serves the cochlea, the sense organ of the inner ear, and restricting blood flow can prevent enough oxygen from reaching it.

Nicotine, a vasoconstrictor that causes blood vessels to shrink slightly, can have a profound effect on the small capillaries that serve the ear.

"The ear is tenuous and has a high demand for blood flow," Rauch said. "Every time you light up a cigarette, you are minimally reducing blood flow to the ear. Over a lifetime of being a smoker, you are suffocating the ear a little bit."

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