Could HIV Cause Hearing Loss?

Hearing check-up
A recent study by San Diego State scientist Peter Torre and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University, Georgetown University, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found that adults who are HIV-positive tend to have significantly more hearing loss than those who are not. The risk for hearing loss was the same, regardless of severity of infection or habits of medication.

Torre designed a procedure to screen participants for hearing loss, and researchers recruited middle-aged HIV-positive participants from previous studies. Of the 400 subjects, 105 women and 117 men had tested to be HIV-positive. Researchers collected data regarding HIV-positive participants’ habits of medication, such as how long they had been taking the medicine and how strictly they adhered to their prescriptions. Blood tests were run to analyze disease progression.

Following the initial screening, all participants were given a standard hearing test. The hearing test played a variety of tones between 250 to 8000 hertz at many different volumes. Researchers expected that HIV-positive participants would have hearing that was mostly intact, with some loss at higher frequencies, similar to hearing loss due to premature aging. What they found instead was that the participants with HIV were unable to hear tones at higher frequencies and at lower frequencies. None of the variables regarding level of infection or medication adherence could explain the cause of the hearing loss.

Researchers were unable to describe a physiological cause of hearing loss in HIV-positive people, but hypothesize that it could be a response to inflammation caused by the HIV virus itself, due to the lack of response to HIV medication or other disease. Howard Hoffman, director of epidemiology/statistics at NIDCD and study co-author, suggested that the patterns of hearing loss experienced by HIV-positive participants is similar to that found in adults with diabetes.

The researchers intend to conduct additional studies to find the reason for the unusual hearing loss.

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