A New Study Reveals A Surprising Risk Associated With OTC Painkillers

Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers are a staple in many home medicine cabinets. After all, it's easy to just relieve a headache by heading to your bathroom and grabbing a couple of pre-approved pills. So, these pills are completely safe then, right?

The truth is, they're not without their risks. For example, some problems can occur if you take certain OTC medications without food. As the U.K.'s National Health Service explains, those stipulations are actually pretty important. Taking these medications with food and liquid reduces the chance that the medicine will make you feel nauseous or irritate your stomach. In some cases, taking them with food may even prevent vomiting or ulcers.

Aside from these concerns, however, OTC medications have generally been considered safe when taken in the proper dosage. But gastrointestinal side effects aren't the only concern. In fact, a new study has found that consistent and prolonged use may be linked to a surprising condition.

Overusing OTC medications can cause tinnitus

Through a study of more than 69,000 women, researchers discovered that those who used OTC painkillers regularly, specifically aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen, were at higher risk for tinnitus than women who did not use the medications or who only used them sparingly (via U.S. News). Tinnitus causes you to hear whistling, buzzing, or whooshing sounds despite no external noise. Unfortunately, this can be a long-term condition for some.

Dr. Sharon Curhan of Brigham and Women's Hospital, the lead author of the study, pointed out that although these medications are available without a prescription, they are still medications with the potential for unexpected side effects. To that end, Dr. Curhan advises that anyone intent on regular use of these medications should talk to a medical professional first. They may be able to provide alternative solutions with fewer side effects.

Tinnitus has other causes aside from regular OTC use, including damage to the structures of the inner ear and diseases of the blood vessels or heart, according to National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. There are treatments available, but currently, there is no known cure.