Hearing and Vestibular Loss with Misuse of Opioids and Illicit Drugs: A Review of the Literature

Michelle L. Hughes, Amanda I. Rodriguez, Jonathan Hatch, Kenneth Zoucha

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: The purpose of this review was to summarize the literature regarding the effects of opioids and illicit drugs on the auditory and vestibular systems. Methods: Data were sourced from published papers reporting hearing loss (HL) and/or vestibular loss (VL) following misuse or overdose of opioids or illicit drugs. Most papers consisted of retrospective single-case reports, with few retrospective reviews or prospective cohort studies. Search terms included variations of HL, VL, opioids, and illicit drugs. Search results yielded 51 articles published between 1976 and 2021. A total of 44 articles were reviewed after excluding studies that were not available in English (n = 3), only described acute effects in healthy cohorts (n = 3) or only described general health aspects in a group on methadone maintenance (n = 1). Results: Sixteen studies reported ototoxicity from illicit drugs, 27 from prescription opioids, and 1 was unspecified. This review shows that HL associated with amphetamines and cocaine was typically sudden, bilateral, and temporary. HL from cocaine/crack and heroin often presented with greatest losses in the mid-frequency range. HL associated with opioids was typically sudden, bilateral, moderately severe to profound, and in most cases permanent. The literature is sparse regarding VL from illicit drugs and opioids. Conclusion: Practitioners who see patients for sudden or rapidly progressive HL or VL with no apparent cause should inquire about misuse of illicit drugs and opioids, particularly when the HL does not respond to steroid treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-281
Number of pages11
JournalAudiology and Neurotology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • Hearing loss
  • Illicit drugs
  • Opioids
  • Ototoxicity
  • Vestibular loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Speech and Hearing


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