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A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and summarized in Ruters Health says that regular use of pain relievers over many years may increase the risk of hearing loss.

Researchers analyzed long-term data on almost 56,000 U.S. women and found using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) like naproxen (Aleve) and ibuprofen (Motrin) as well as acetaminophen (Tylenol) for six years or more was tied to a greater risk of hearing problems than taking these drugs for a year or less.

“Hearing loss is extremely common in the United States and can have a profound impact on quality of life,” said senior study author Dr. Gary Curhan, a researcher at Harvard University and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Risks of the painkillers in the study go beyond hearing loss and patients should do their best to avoid long-term use, Curhan added by email.

“Even though these medications are sold without requiring a prescription, they do have potential side effects, one of which is a higher risk of hearing loss; they have also been shown to be associated with a higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) and other important medical conditions,” Curhan said.

“They are generally safe when taken in usual doses for short periods of time,” Curhan noted. “However, there should be strong justification for long-term use.”

Women in the study who used NSAIDs at least twice a week for six years or more were 10 percent more likely to report hearing loss than participants who used these drugs for less than one year.

With acetaminophen, regular users for at least six years were 9 percent more likely to report defective hearing than short-term users, researchers report in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Researchers did not find a statistically meaningful association between hearing loss and the duration of aspirin use.

Aspirin has been linked to ringing in the ears in the past, and Vicodin, a painkiller that contains acetaminophen, has been tied to hearing loss with overuse, noted Dr. Jennifer Derebery of the House Ear Clinic and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ibuprofen is less commonly recognized by the public as a potential cause of hearing damage, Derebery, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

Previous research has found a similar link between painkillers and hearing loss in men, though studies to date have yet to explain how the drugs might impact hearing, said Dr. Wilko Grolman, a researcher at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands who wasn’t involved in the study.

However, the study is observational and doesn’t prove these painkillers cause hearing impairment.

“The hearing loss was self-reported and not measured objectively with hearing tests,” Dr. David Haynes, a researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.