Serious scare over hearing loss

This is a rather self-indulgent post on my part, but since our hobby is often about self-indulgence I guess it's OK. I had a recent scare that made me think seriously about my hearing, and how precious the gift of good sound -- heck, any sound -- is to us audiophiles.

I get my medical care from an HMO -- Group Health Cooperative, the oldest one in the country -- which set the standard for HMO's for many years. During the past decade, Group Health Cooperative has been faced with rising operating expenses and rapidly escalating prices for drugs, and has had to find ways to reduce these costs while still offering good quality healthcare.

About a month ago, Group Health switched patients who were taking Simvastatin (a cholesterol lowering drug) to Lovastatin (another cholesterol lowering drug). Lovastatin was, I think, the first of the "statins", and is now a good dealer cheaper than Simvastatin. Group Health's own tests indicated that Lovastatin was as effective in lowering cholesterol as Simvastatin, so they apparently thought that putting their patients on Lovastatin would allow dollar savings without any decrease in efficacy.

About 5-6 days after switching to Lovastatin, I woke up in the morning and was virtually unable to hear from my left ear. Not only was I unable to hear conversation, but I had also severe tinnitis in the left ear. I realized the problem was severe when I tried to use the telephone with my left ear and was totally unable to hear what was being said -- it sounded like a very faint, totally garbled radio transmission. Further, when I tried to listen to music on the audio system, the left ear made funny noises like the tones on a push-button phone. Very, very disconcerting!

I visited my doctor, thinking I had developed an inner ear infection. Her diagnosis was that the Eustachian tube was blocked, and a vacuum had developed in the middle ear, which was causing the tinnitis. She said there was no infection, and that the problem might clear up, and it might not. She went on to say that hearing problems among older people -- particularly men -- often occur for no apparent clinical reason, and that very little can be done about it. (As an example, I have a woman friend who had a minor traffic accident about 5 years ago, and experienced TOTAL hearing loss in her right ear. The hearing has never returned.)

Well, the timing of starting a new medication -- Lovastatin -- and the onset of severe hearing loss struck me as more than a coincidence, so I did a bit of Internet research using a pharmaceutical information site. My digging revealed that a very small percentage of people sometimes develop hearing problems due to use of the cholesterol-lowering "statin" drugs.

I decided to stop taking the Lovastatin, and about 5 days later my hearing cleared -- almost completely. I decided to try the medication again, and after 5 days the hearing loss re-occurred. I then stopped the medication again, and my hearing returned after 5 days or so (my theory here is that it took 4-5 days for the medication to clear from my system). After this self-directed experiment of starting and stopping the medication for 3 full cycles, and having hearing loss after 5 days, and then re-gaining my hearing after stopping the medication, I was convinced that the Lovastatin was the culprit.

I met yesterday with my doctor, and she is again prescribing my previous drug, Simvastatin. She agreed that the problem I had with Lovastatin is quite rare, and that the hearing loss I had was due either to a problem specific to my biology, or due to a bad interaction with the diabetes medication I also take.

The point of this story is: our hearing is precious, and it can be damaged unexpectedly. Pay attention to the medications you take, and be alert to unexpected side effects or drug interactions. Obviously, if you take Lovastatin, and have found your hearing affected, then ask your doctor for a different drug.

During my doctor visit yesterday, I had an audiometry test, and I'm pleased to report that the hearing in my left ear is back to about 90% acuity, with only minor loss in the very high frequencies (which my doctor said should return to normal before long). I have tended to take my hearing for granted, and was really devastated to find how much my audio enjoyment had diminished by loss of hearing in just one ear. Music has been such a part of my life for so long, I can't imagine living without it.

So, fellow 'philes (men particularly) -- get a regular hearing checkup, and be alert to possible problems with new medications.
Scott, i don't find your post self-indulgent in the least and consider it a very thoughtful and timely "public service announcement". Glad that you caught this before something more severe came out of it. Your post may help others or at least make them aware that they need to pay attention to all of the variable when such things occur. Sean
I appreciate your post very much and would like to thank you for it. I think it raises a concern that we all need to take heed too regardless of age. I am very sorry to hear of your experience but I am glad that it turned out ok. As I am in my early 40’s now I have a lot of respect for my health now that I didn’t have before. This is a very good reminder to all of us to keep those annual check-ups.
Seems like when you least expect it, something comes up like that. Good thing you were able to solve & correct the problem before lasting damage occurred.

Just want to add something about taking care of ones hearing. I injured my ears many years ago & even though I recovered have always used ear plugs since. Like today, I was under the house with my boy using a rotor rooter type snake drill & had ear plugs in. I also make my kids use them when I do or would. This includes tasks like mowing the lawn.

Yes, it's scary when we have a problem & potentially lose a precious part of our being. Good post, as we need to be reminded of it occasionally. Speaking of reminding, that's what Easter is all about. Hope everybody has a good one.
Last November I began having bouts of tinnitus in my left ear. They wouldn't last long but seemed to occur more frequently when I was listening to music. Over time the ringing got worse. Louder, longer, more frequent. An internet search into the subject revealed a number of causes, the more common of which is "old age" hearing loss for which it is reported, "nothing can be done". I saw the internist, he sent me to the ENT. Neither acted like there was anything which could be done. I was tested for all the unusual possible causes, all negative. The doctors lost interest. I tend to be a "hard science" kind of guy and don't pay much attention to "alternative healers". But I did have a good experience a number of years ago with vitamin therapy and recovery from a nerve injury. I decided to try the same thing here. I've also read Vitamin A is reported to help with tinnitus. It's been about six weeks now. The problem is not gone but it is much better. I suggest anyone having a similar problem do the same kind of basic research I did and come up with a combination of vitamins to try. I'm reluctant to "prescribe" here since this was all done without the guidance of a physician. I also agree with using earplugs. I've done that regularly for several years. Now I'm even more aggressive in their use. In the car, cutting the lawn, motorcycle, racetrack, etc. If I'm going to use up my hearing by exposure to loud sounds then its going to be in front of the stereo.
Thanks for the supportive and interesting responses. In making my post, I forgot to mention one of the other, less pleasant side effects that can occur with the "statin" drugs (which are derived from Aspergillus terreus): erectile dysfunction. And I thought hearing loss was upsetting....(I wonder if Bob Dole knows about this?)
There are many classes of drugs which can damage hearing.
NSAIDS (non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs) can cause temporary or permanent hearing problems. I believe celebrex left me with permanent tinnitus and a low tolerance for loud sounds. Diuretics and a few antibiotics are also associated with hearing loss. Alcohol consumption can temporarily lessen hearing acuity particularly at the extremes (low & high frequencies). Alcohol also makes the ears more susceptible to hearing damage by reducing the ears protective reflex. There are "tender" eared people and those with "tough" ears so sound levels at a so called safe level may still be doing damage to your ears. I always carry ear plugs on planes and to noisy meetings with pa systems blasting. I have found that gingo bilboa helps with tinnitus.
wear ear protection!
As with so many blessings in life, we can take much of our senses and health for granted. I'm very glad to hear (no pun) that your problem was reversible. It is also timely for me in that my wife's cholesterol is very high for no apparent reason - her diet would already make a rabbit blush, and she exercises fairly regularly - so they are contemplating medication. This information will be very helpful. Thanks!
Beowulf, (for further study) acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid to improve auditory sensitivity and inner-ear function which deteriorates w/age. Also, before listening session, vinpocetine. fwiw
Scott; I too am sorry to hear about your brush with serious hearing loss, and glad to hear that it's looking reversible. In some respects, I can relate. A year or so ago, I had some seriously high blood sugar level readings-- lost a bunch of weight, exercised, and started eating whole oat oatmeal for breakfast. And as a result of all this my blood cholesterol level dropped from 232 to 164, and blood sugar and blood pressure are now low normal-- all in about 8 months. Life style really is important to health. When I retired I sort of became a "slug" for awhile:>(.

Ibuprofen will cause ringing in my ears if I use it much, and 10 years ago I also became a big believer in HQ hearing protection-- after years of abusing my ears. Best Wishes and Cheers. Craig
I've suffered from tinnitus since I went to a Bruce Springsteen concert in 1982. The high price I paid for the 10th row center seats was nothing compared to the price I've paid from the ringing in my ears that has lasted for 22 years. For about three days after the concert, my ears had a plugged feeling and I could hardly hear a thing. After they went back to "normal," I was left with a constant ringing sound. I put up with this conditioin for about 10 years before I went to a specialist and he put me on Niacin. It didn't work, unfortunately. However, I will explore some of the other suggesstions submitted above and appreciate everybody sharing their experiences.

Parents, warn your kids again about the damage that rock music can cause to your hearing. They'll ignore you, but you can tell them my story and maybe it will sink in the first time they can't hear normal conversation after they get home from a concert. Unfortunately, we're not indestructible, even if we think so when we're young.

Fortunately, my hearing is otherwise very good. But at age 51, I too have become extremely protective of it. I carry hearing protectors in the trunk of my car (the big kind that look like ear muffs). I also always use ear plugs when I ride my motorcycle because they've researched this subject and found wind noise at highway speeds can/will cause permanent damage to the auditory nerves.

Sdcampbell and anybody else who may have experienced erectile dysfunction from medications or other causes, I found a non-prescription product that the maker claims works for a greater % of people than Viagra. I've tried it along with a few friends (more in the name of "better living through chemistry") and it definitely helps those who are otherwise OK, but just want to turn back the clock a couple of decades. But if it perfoms as as the manufacturer claims for people who haven't had success with Viagra, it may also help in your situation. Anybody interested in more info. can email me at

Audiophiles, and this site it seems, are predominantly male, and we men have a bad habit of ignoring our health and the warning signs our bodies give us. We may think we're just "toughing it out" like we were brought up to do, but it usually backfires on us. I ignored great pain in my thumbs for three years before an X-ay revealed that I'd worn away all the cartilage. And just like an old ball joint on a car, once it gets loose, the rate of deterioration prgresses rapidly. Maybe this thread will remind others that music, and many other plearsuable activities, rely first on that which we usually take for granted- our good health. Thanks to everybody who has contributed to this discussion.
SD, e-mail me....I am a meat eater and with a special regime I had a cholesterol of 124--that's a vegetarian reading!
To everyone who posted above:

It's now June 3rd (2002), and I'm glad to report that my hearing is back to normal. After stopping the Lovastatin and resuming the Simvastatin, all of the congestion and hearing problems cleared up. So, I can report a happy ending, and I'm back to spending gobs of money on audio gear and recordings...(grin).