Opioid use can trigger deafness, study finds

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In a new study from Rutgers, researchers found that opioid use, particularly in high doses, can cause deafness.

The study reviewed records from the New Jersey Poison Control Center from 1999 to 2018 to determine the association between opioid use and degrees of hearing loss.

Researchers identified 41 people with opioid exposure who experienced full or partial hearing loss or tinnitus, likely caused by toxicity to the ear.

More than half had used heroin, followed by oxycodone, methadone and tramadol; 88% had only one known exposure.

Most people reported the condition affecting both ears, with 12 people experiencing deafness, 15 partial or total loss of hearing acuity, 10 tinnitus and four a mix of symptoms.

While some people may regain their hearing, the loss could be permanent with others — 21% of those reporting the condition had no improvement in hearing when they were discharged from the hospital.

The team says the delicate structures of the inner ear are very susceptible to injury if oxygen supply is insufficient, as well as to the direct effect of toxins like opioids.

Although the study found a link with heroin, toxicity to the ear can occur with every opioid.

This study supports what has been found in animal studies, which is that any opioid can cause hearing loss.

This might be because humans already have built-in opioid receptors, or binding sites, in the inner ear. Activating them may trigger this injury in some patients.

The researchers said health care providers should be aware of the association with opioid use when evaluating a patient with hearing loss.

If you care about opioid use and your health, please read studies about opioid addiction: 11 big signs you should know and findings of a new blood test for pain may help fight opioid crisis.

For more information about opioids and your health, please see recent studies about opioid use linked to dangerous heart infection and results showing the major cause of the opioid crisis.

The study is published in The Journal of Medical Toxicology. One author of the study is Lewis Nelson.

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