By the way, doctor: Could aspirin cause hearing loss?
Q. I am 85 and have taken an 81-mg aspirin each day for decades for heart attack prevention. Recently, I noticed these words on the label: "Stop using if you get ringing in your ears or loss of hearing." Should I be worried?
A. In a word, no.
In the body, aspirin gets converted into a chemical called salicylic acid, so the side effect that the label is referring to is sometimes called salicylism, or more simply, aspirin poisoning. Very high levels of aspirin in the blood can have toxic effects. Tinnitus — a ringing or whistling noise in the ear — and hearing loss are among them. But there's no risk of that happening at an 81-mg dose.
People have been taking aspirin for more than a century, and I think it's still the most widely used medicine. Like you, many people take small doses daily for cardiovascular health. But large doses used to be prescribed much more often, partly because we didn't have nearly as many other medications to choose from. Doctors have also learned that many drugs, including aspirin, work just as well at lower doses as at higher ones, and — no surprise — lower doses are often associated with fewer side effects.