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Hearing Loss Causes: Viagra is a Culprit

You know that little blue pill that puts the zip back into your love life. Well, it may be doing more than it's supposed to. An extensive study has now officially shown a relationship between hearing loss and the use of Viagra – one of the most popular medications in the history of medications.

Viagra – Add Some Zing to Your Zing-O

Viagra hearing loss
Little Blue Causes Hearing Loss?

Viagra is a phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5i) inhibiter. It was originally intended to treat hypertension (high blood pressure) but, when the use of Viagra became widespread, men reported some...ummm...interesting side effects.

Today, Viagra is used to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) in men who are unable to achieve or maintain an erection during sexual intercourse.

Viagra, made by Pfizer, has become one of the most popular treatments for erectile dysfunction, which can be caused by a number of physical and emotional conditions. ED can also be caused by the use of certain medications, disease or simply aging. There's no shortage of causes of ED and it's a condition that men (and their partners) have dealt with for centuries.

This isn't some new problem or some new cure. In fact, the concept behind Viagra has been around since 1985 when a similar medication was manufactured to treat angina – chest pains related to blood flow through the heart. Other parts of the anatomy weren't on the minds of the researchers who developed PDE-5i. It was originally designed to treat chest pains caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart.

Research and field studies were conducted by Pfizer between 1986 and 1990 when a drug called Sildenafil was released by Pfizer to treat angina. That's when patients began reporting "off-label" side effects.

All of a sudden, Pfizer had a drug to treat erectile dysfunction and ever since, we've been bombarded with advertising for the "little blue pill" responsible for saving untold numbers of marriages.

According to Pfizer study documents, "Double-blind, placebo controlled" clinical trials started in 1993 to test how well Viagra addressed the problem of erectile dysfunction. "To make the trials a fair test, neither the patients, nor their doctors, knew if they were receiving the medicine or an inactive placebo. Viagra proved to be a huge success..." (Pfizer)

It still took several years of testing to finally receive the necessary government approvals but in 1998, Pfizer introduced Viagra – the pill that could treat ED and it was an instant phenomenon. During the first three months Viagra was available at the local drugstore, 2,900,000 prescriptions were written. Men were lining up to get that little blue pill that was going to put the pizzazz back where it belonged.

Viagra and Hearing Loss

In a recent study, published in The Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and conducted at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), it shows that there is, in fact, a relationship between hearing loss and the use of Viagra. This is the first long term study published showing this relationship since warnings were put out in 2007.

The study, headed by Professor Gerald McGwin, PhD, reported, "It appears from these findings that the current government warning regarding hearing loss and the use of PDE-5i medications is warranted," said Dr. McGwin, a professor of epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health. "Though there are limitations to this study, it is prudent that patients using these medications be warned about the signs and symptoms of hearing impairment and be encouraged to seek immediate medical attention to potentially forestall permanent damage."

The problem associated with hearing loss and the use of Viagra is thought to be in the drugs ability to increase blood flow. Again, originally developed to increase blood flow to and through the heart, then to increase blood flow to the penis, PDE-5i also increases blood flow throughout the body. It doesn't selectively increase blood flow in certain parts of the body and subsequently may also increase blood flow to the ears.

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required the drug maker to add a warning that the use of Viagra may lead to hearing loss after several cases of sudden hearing loss were reported by the medical community. Pfizer followed the FDA's ruling and made "hearing loss" more prominent in its list of side effects of using Viagra (BTW, all drugs have side effects so it's not unusual).

Reports of a relationship between the use of Viagra and hearing loss aren't new to the research and medical community and Viagra remains the most popular choice among couples for the treatment of ED in men.

The Study Results

Dr. McGwin collected data on 11,525 men over 40 years old, so this study covers a large population, delivering more reliable results. The data were collected from a survey conducted by another federal agency, The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The numbers were collected from 2003 through 2006, again a span of time that increases the validity of the test results. And, indeed, those results were starling.

Men who take Viagra are twice as likely to experience hearing loss than those who don't take PDE-5i drugs. The reason for this increase in hearing loss isn't specified, though hearing experts believe that increased blood flow to the delicate hearing mechanism may actually damage parts of the auditory (hearing) system.

What About Other Drugs Used to Treat ED?

There are two other drugs that are frequently prescribed to treat ED in men.

The primary ingredient in the ED drug, Cialis, is called tadalafil. The other popular ED treatment is called Levitra, which is a drug called vardenafil. Neither are PDE-5i-based drugs. However, both are intended to increase blood flow. The authors of the study, nonetheless, are quick to point out that Cialis and Levitra were not studied.

Dr. McGwin stated that the relationship was strongest in men reporting use of Sildenafil (Viagra) over those who used tadalafil (Cialis) or vardenafil (Levitra), a finding he attributed in part to a small sample size for both of the latter drugs.

Dr. McGwin said the findings indicated an elevated but not statistically significant increase in hearing loss for users of tadalafil and vardenafil. Obviously, more study into the impact these drugs have on hearing is required.

What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss?

There's an obvious quandary, here. A healthy, happy love life is important to the quality of life of many couples of all ages. However, the possibility of experiencing hearing loss should make couples thing twice about the use of any drug that's used to treat ED. So should you stop using Viagra? Cialis? Levitra?

No, but you should increase your awareness of changes in your hearing. So what do you look for – or listen for – if you take medication to treat erectile dysfunction?

  • Friends and family tell you that you have a hearing problem. That's usually the first sign of hearing loss. Often, hearing loss is so gradual that the individual who experiences it doesn't notice. But those around him do. So, listen to your friends, family, neighbors and co-workers who point out that "maybe you should get your hearing checked." Maybe you should.
  • Turning up the volume. If the TV volume notches up, if you're scrolling up the volume on your MP3 player or the car radio, consider it a sign that you might be losing your ability to hear.
  • Ringing in the ears (also called tinnitus) is a common sign of hearing loss or other medical issues related to your hearing mechanism.
  • If you have trouble hearing sounds in the upper frequencies – the high notes, a female or child's voice – this could indicate the onset of hearing loss.
  • Difficulty hearing in large rooms. Some people experience hearing loss in large spaces – spaces that produce echoes like auditoriums.
  • Difficulty hearing in background noise. Early hearing loss is often most noticeable while listening in background noise.
  • Finally, have your hearing tested by a hearing professional regularly. These professionals are trained to detect hearing loss early and with great specificity.

A hearing evaluation produces a visual image of your hearing loss called an audiogram that shows hearing loss at specific frequency ranges. A hearing evaluation is the surest way to determine: (1) if you've experienced hearing loss and, (2) the extent of the hearing loss.

These suggestions should apply, not only to Viagra users, but to those who use Cialis and Levitra or generics to address erectile dysfunction.

If you have any doubts, talk to the prescribing physician to discuss the risks associated with the use of PDE-5i. And become your own best advocate for healthy hearing.

Hearing loss is a quality of life issue, just like a healthy love life. It's a decision that each couple must make for themselves. However...

...make the decision based on the facts and on the results of a hearing evaluation performed by a hearing professional. Once you have all the facts, you can make the best decision for you and your mate, in conjunction with your family doctor.

The evidence speaks for itself. The UAB study clearly demonstrates that the use of PDE-5i contributes to hearing loss. Talk to your doctor, have a hearing evaluation and discuss the pros and cons with your partner.

Finally, become your own advocate for hearing health. Only you can do it. Remember...

...it's all about quality of life. Get started today. Find a hearing professional, hearing store, or hearing center near you.

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