Most people don’t like to rely on over-the-counter pain relievers, but sometimes it’s difficult not to. Regular aches and pains, headaches, arthritis, and more can all cause pain strong enough to interfere with work and daily life, say nothing of trying to get a good night’s sleep.
According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, an estimated 20 percent of American adults (42 million people) have pain that disrupts their sleep a few nights a week or more.
We all know that lack of sleep isn’t good for us, so surely popping a few ibuprofen is better than lying awake suffering?
Maybe, but according to a recent study, we may be trading one health problem for another. Researchers found that women taking more pain pills were also more likely to experience hearing loss. Are we doomed to lose either way?
What the Study Said
Researchers from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital asked more than 62,000 female volunteers between the ages of 31 and 48 to record their use of pain relievers containing acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for almost 15 years. The study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Overall, the results showed that the more of these drugs the women took, the more likely they were to report hearing loss. Those who took a pill two or three times a week were about 12 percent more likely to report hearing problems, while those who took a pill more than four times a week increased their risk to more than 20 percent.
Interestingly enough, there was no link between aspirin use and hearing loss in this study, though previous studies have linked all three pain relievers to hearing loss in men.
What’s causing the possible connection? Lead author Sharon G. Curhan noted, “Possible mechanisms might be that NSAIDs may reduce blood flow to the cochlea—the hearing organ—and impair its function. Acetaminophen may deplete factors that protect the cochlea from damage.”
According to the report, more than 50 percent of American adults suffer from high-frequency hearing loss by the time they reach 60 years old, and one-third of women in their 50s and nearly two-thirds in their 60s have experienced hearing loss.
So I Can’t Hear as Well—Is That Such a Big Deal?
It may seem a worthwhile exchange, pain relief for a little bit of hearing loss. What many people don’t realize is that hearing loss can lead to other health problems.
A recent study reported in the New York Times in January 2013, for example, reported that elderly people with compromised hearing are at risk of developing cognitive defects—problems with memory and thinking—sooner than those with their hearing intact. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.
Researchers looked at nearly 2,000 older adults who participated over many years in the Health ABC Study, and found that annual rates of cognitive decline were 41 percent greater in older adults with hearing problems than in those without. The bottom line, according to Kathleen Pichora-Fuller, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, is to “pay attention to hearing loss.”
The Better Hearing Institute goes even further, stating that untreated hearing loss leads to increased risk to personal safety, irritability, negativism, anger, fatigue, tension, and stress. A study published in the Archives of Neurology found that the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease specifically increased with hearing loss, while an Italian study found that working adults aged 35 to 55 who were affected by mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears reported higher levels of disability and psychological distress.
Other Ways to Reduce Pain
So what are you to do if you want to reduce the pain and get a good night’s sleep, but want to protect your hearing?
Fortunately, there are several alternatives to standard pain relievers. Here are a few. Let us know if you have more!
- Capsaicin: An active component in chili pepper, this extract helps make nerve receptors less sensitive. In studies, nearly 40 percent of arthritis patients reduced their pain by half after using a topical capsaicin cream for a month. Ointments and creams are sold in health stores.
- Arnica: This herb comes from a European flower, and has anti-inflammatory properties. Practitioners have found it to be especially effective for post-surgery swelling. You can find this in ointment that’s great for strained muscles.
- Aquamin: A red seaweed supplement, this natural pain reliever helped reduce joint inflammation and stiffness in arthritis patients. Recommended dose is 2,400 mg a day of Aquamin in tablet form.
- SAM-e: Studies out of the University of Maryland School of Nursing and the University of California, Irvine found that SAM-e was just as effective as some NSAIDs (like ibuprofen and aspirin) in easing the pain of osteoarthritis. Try 400 to 1,600 mg daily.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine: Studies have found this nutrient to ease nerve pain from diabetes, and may also help regenerate damaged nerves over time, reducing sensitivity.
- Feverfew: If you have headaches, this is the one to try. It’s also shown to be useful for rheumatoid arthritis.
- Willow bark extract: According to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, studies have suggested that salicin, a compound from willow bark extract, may help with headaches, low back pain, and osteoarthritis. Doses range from 120 mg of salicin extract to 240 mg.
Do you know of other natural pain relievers? Please share!
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“AAPM Facts and Figures on Pain,” American Academy of Pain Medicine, http://www.painmed.org/patientcenter/facts_on_pain.aspx.
Christine Kearney, “Pain Drugs Can Cause Hearing Loss in Women,” Medical News Today, September 13, 2012, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/250194.php.
Frank R. Lin, et al., “Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults,” JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(4):293-299, http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1558452#qundefined.
Judith Graham, “Study Links Cognitive Deficits, Hearing Loss,” New York Times, January 23, 2013, http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/23/study-links-cognitive-deficits-hearing-loss/.
“The link between chronic disease and hearing loss: Are you at risk?” Better Hearing Institute, http://www.betterhearing.org/press/articles/Chronic_Diseases_and_hearing_loss.cfm.
D. Monzani, et al., “Psychological profile and social behaviour of working adults with mild or moderate hearing loss,” Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 2008 April; 28(2):61-66, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2644978/.
Frank R. Lin, et al., “Hearing Loss and Incident Dementia,” Arch Neurol. 2011;68(2):214-220, http://archneur.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=802291.
Jordan Lite, “You’re in pain. You want relief. Naturally,” NBC News, 2012, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26136767/.
Jacob Teitelbaum, “Herbs that Provide Natural Pain Relieve,” Psychology Today, July 24, 2009, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/complementary-medicine/200907/herbs-provide-natural-pain-relief.