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Can the Beta Blocker Propranolol Cause Tinnitus?

Updated on January 24, 2017
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I'm a writer and, I must confess, hypochondriac, who loves to write about anything medically related. I am also a dog lover.

Can Propranolol Cause Ringing in the Ears? My Personal Story

Can propranolol, the popular betablocker also known as Inderal, cause tinnitus? This is something I have been wondering for some time.

After wearing a Holter monitor for 2 weeks, my cardiologist determined that my heart would benefit from a betablocker to slow down my racing heart and decrease my anxiety. So, I was put on propanolol, a popular betablocker that is known for lowering the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the overall effect of adrenaline on the body. I was quite concerned about being put on this drug, however, because my blood pressure was already low to start with.

I purchased the drug, and when I went to read the long list of side effects I sort of got cold feet. I called my cardiologist to ask if I really had to take this drug. "It's important that you take it; it's to put less strain on your heart." The less strain on the heart statement was enough to shut me up and go with the medication.

I took my first 20 mg pill in the morning and the other in evening. To say it made me calmer is an understatement: the drug made me drowsy, lethargic, and feel sort of weird. It surely slowed down my heart rate—so much that I recorded it as low as 48-50 beats per minute, which is much lower than my average of 60 to 70.

I continued taking the medication despite feeling like a truck ran over me. I had all the side effects listed on the drug's accompanying leaflet. Chest tightness, body aches, fatigue, dizziness, you name it. Worst of all, my blood pressure was low. I decided, though, to keep taking it because I read that the side effects were mostly temporary. I felt that if my doctor prescribed it, he must feel that benefits outweighed the side effects.

On the second or third day of taking the medication, a new side effect popped up. I noticed it in the evening upon going to sleep. I was closing my eyes and heard this buzzing sound, as if there was some electronic in the room. I knew nothing was in the room. As a a matter of fact, if I closed my ear lobes with my hands, the sound was louder indicating to me that it was internal—coming from inside the ear rather than an outside source.

The morning after, I checked the list of side effects, looking if tinnitus (the medical term for ringing in the ears) was listed. It was not. Perhaps it was just something temporary I though, just like the other symptoms. I kept taking the medication for a few more days, until I went to my local pharmacy and decided to check my blood pressure as I was feeling quite weak. To my surprise it was 74 over 86! I rushed home and called my cardiologist. He told me to rush to his office. By then, I had ingested plenty of fluids and my anxiety must have perked up as my blood pressure there was 92. Anyhow, it was still quite low. I told my cardiologist about all the other side effects and he told me that it was quite unusual that I was so sensitive to this medication. We agreed that I would take half a tablet until next week when I was to see an electrophysiologist, which is cardiologist specializing in the electrical activity of the heart.

And The Tinnitus Continued...and Continued..

Despite lowering the dosage, the tinnitus became a nightly companion. I was deeply hoping that my electrophysiologist would determine that i didn't really need the drug and he would take me off it. After being another week on propranolol, the big appointment day finally arrived. He looked over my results and determined that I could go off of it! He said that I was still under the norm and that I was to take a blood test to check my phosphorus and magnesium levels. So off the betablocker I went. That night I remember going to bed in high hopes of no longer hearing any buzzing noises, but no, they were still there. Perhaps it was just a matter of time.

After a week, I got tired. I contacted Medwatch and reported it as a side effect. Somebody got back to me and told me "the product labeling for propranolol does not lists tinnitus (ringing of the ears) as a side effect." That was nothing new. I knew that. Indeed, I even called a pharmacist and she checked her manual and she also told me it wasn't listed. She kept asking me if I had been around any loud noises such as being around other people shooting, at a disco or using loud equipment. None of that applied at all to me. I never went to a disco, never used any electrical equipment and never went to a shooting range. I didn't even listen to loud TV or music! I was certain that the drug was the cause, but it seemed like she didn't believe me.

Loads of Proof About Betablockers and Tinnitus

Yet, the internet was chockful of stories of people developing ringing in the ears after using betablockers. The scary thing was that many reported that, as in my case, the ringing continued despite discontinuing the medication. I also found reputable resources listing propranolol as an ototoxic drug (toxic to the ear). Sure, it wasn't one of the most popular, but it was listed by the Northern Virginia Resource Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing as causing tinnitus along with other cardiac medications such as metoprolol (Lopressor). I let the person from Medwatch know about that, but I never heard back from them.

So am I stuck now with tinnitus for the rest of my life? How can just two weeks of propranolol have such a long-lasting effect? I always thought that side effects were temporary not permanent. I can't help it but feel resentful of the cardiologist who put me on it, especially since it wasn't really necessary! I am now on a quest to figure out how to get rid of this ringing and undo the damage sustained, but unfortunately it looks like I am stuck in a sticky situation. Countless people have tinnitus and there apparently isn't really a cure for it. I am determined though to try several remedies. Some nights it seems to be fading, others it appears to be back in full force. In the meanwhile, I dream of one day putting my head on the pillow and falling asleep peacefully as I used to.

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      David 3 months ago

      Your story sounds very very familiar. I also was prescribed beta blockers by my cardiologist. I was on 25mg Atenolol daily for about 6 months. While I was on the Beta Blocker, I must admit my ectopics disappeared and I felt great. But after a few months, I noticed a high pitched ringing in both ears. And as soon as I noticed it, I realized how loud it actually was. It seemed to dominate the ambient sounds around me. I started looking at potential causes. Like yourself, I had no history of loud music or industrial noise. Then an ENT specialist told me it was a TMJ (jaw) issue and that it would go away in a few weeks as long as I stopped chewing gum (which I was told to chew a few weeks earlier by my GP to relieve blocked eustachian tubes in my ears). He prescribed me some Cerebrex and told me to stop worrying. But the ringing persisted. It became so bad that I started waking up at night with anxiety attacks. Then I went to see a psychologist who started CBT with me. It helped to deal with the anxiety (a bit) but did nothing to reduce the T. I kept trying to find a cause of the T and started reading anecdotal evidence of the link between Tinnitus and Atenelol (Beta Blockers). This frightened me so I called my cardio and asked him if there was a link. He said that he'd never heard of one and never had any patients complain of it. Nevertheless, I thought I should get off the beta blocker to see if that helped. In the meantime I went to see a physio to explore the TMJ theory. He told me that he didn't see any evidence of an abnormal TMJ in my case. So then I saw a chiro who x-rayed my neck and found some abnormalities around poor neck position and posture. That started my on a 9 month chiropractic journey, which has improved my skeletal posture but not reduced the tinnitus or the frequent left-side headaches that I had been experiencing over the last year or two. I had a CT scan and MRT scan of the head and nothing conclusive came up there. In my desperation to get some sleep at night I saw yet another ENT specialist who prescribed me some Amitriptyline to take at night to reduce the anxiety. That worked and I've been able to sleep at night as a result. But I've been on that drug for 9 months now and don't want to be taking it forever. I've tried hypnotherapy and even acupuncture to relieve the tinnitus. Nothing has helped to date. I recently clocked up my first anniversary of living with Tinnitus and I'm still no closer to a cure or even some relief from this living nightmare! I'm at the stage now where I'm going back to my ENT next week to have my hearing tested (again) to see if there has been any degeneration. Last time it was only a mild deterioration at high frequency. But I've read that T is often linked with hearing loss and that sometimes hearing-aides can reduce Tinnitus. So, that's where I'm at right now. At age 51 and in otherwise good health, looking at a lifetime of tinnitus or living with hearing aides. I'm desperately trying to keep a positive frame of mind. I don't suppose any of this has made you feel any better about your own situation. I truly hope your tinnitus has gone away. I wish mine would!

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      denise wallace 5 weeks ago

      Having read both of these of these I can only say thank you as I also have tinnitus.I was put on beta blockers years ago and have had tinnitus for just over 3 years,I cannot find a reason why I should have it and it's tortue.I like David have had everything and now have to take lorazapan at night or I cannot sleep.I have recently seen a neurologist who is now saying it's chronic migraine and that's the reason for the noise,He has given me tablets and on looking up these it clearly states in the side effects tinnitus!I shall never give up trying to find something to ease this I want a life back and I don't care if I have to take tablets for the rest of my life as long as it gets rid of this awful noise.I hope you both get relief from it and if you find anything to help please share.God Bless

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      MK 3 weeks ago

      I wonder if you have an update! I started the same drug a couple weeks ago and have a high-pitched sound in one ear now. A google search reveals others have had this problem too!

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      David 3 weeks ago

      Hi MK. I recommend you go to your MD asap and explain the side effect. See if there is something else you can take for your condition instead.

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