April 26, 2006

Aspirin can prevent deafness in antibiotic use

By Gene Emery

BOSTON (Reuters) - People treated with the antibiotic
gentamicin can reduce the risk of permanent hearing loss, a
possible side effect, by also taking aspirin, a study showed on

The finding could be especially important in poorer
countries where gentamicin and similar drugs, known as
aminoglycosides, are used widely because they are inexpensive
and often available over the counter, the researchers said.

Millions of people take the drug worldwide each year and
perhaps one in 10 permanently loses at least some hearing
because of it, the co-author of the study, Jochen Schacht of
the University of Michigan, told Reuters.

If aspirin co-therapy is widely adopted, "a lot of hearing
loss and probably a lot of suffering from its consequences will
be prevented," he said.

"In a developing country if you lose your hearing, nobody
cares about you. It means no more work, no more

The study published in this week's New England Journal of
Medicine was a joint effort by the University of Michigan and
the Fourth Military Medical University in Xi'an, China.

Gentamicin is not used widely in the United States because
of the risk to hearing.

Schacht said he and colleague Su-Hua Sha turned to China
when they were told no drug company would sponsor a test of the
aspirin treatment because there was no way to make a profit if
it worked.

The Chinese doctors were enthusiastic because "they were
seeing the problem," especially in children, said Schacht.

In the test, only 3 percent of the 89 patients who received
gentamicin with 3 grams of aspirin a day developed hearing
problems five weeks after treatment, compared with 13 percent
of the 106 who got a placebo in addition to the antibiotic.

Aspirin did not reduce the effectiveness of the antibiotic,
but it did cause stomach problems in some patients. Three
people had to stop taking it because of stomach bleeding. But
the benefits outweighed the risks, said the Sha team.

Aspirin's ability to soak up oxidants may explain why it
works, and other antioxidant drugs may work as well. But
"aspirin may appeal to practitioners in developing countries
because of its simplicity and low cost," the researchers said.

Aminoglycosides have been on the market for about 60 years.
The World Health Organization recommends them for cases of
drug-resistant tuberculosis. In addition, an inhaled form of
gentamicin is often given to patients with cystic fibrosis.

It hinders hearing by destroying the tiny hairs in the
inner ear that detect sounds at different frequencies.

The idea of giving aspirin came partly from tests on
animals. "It seemed much too easy when we first thought of it,"
Schacht said.