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Another Devastating Consequence of HIV

by April Maguire

Despite dramatic advances in treatment over the last decade, HIV remains a serious condition that affects millions of Americans. Until recently, no conclusive link had been established between HIV and hearing loss. However, a new study out of Baltimore suggests that HIV leads to increased rates of hearing loss across all frequencies.

What the Study Says

Published in the JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, the study demonstrated that adults with HIV experience higher rates of hearing loss compared to non-HIV patients, after accounting for factors like age, sex, race, and noise exposure. Before beginning the study, researchers selected 262 men, with an average age of 57, and 134 women, with an average age of 48, from the Washington, D.C., area. They then requested that subjects fill out questionnaires regarding their medical histories and past exposure to noise. After conducting detailed testing on the condition of the external, middle and internal ear components, doctors assessed levels of acoustic admittance. They also tested PTA, or pure-tone averages, by playing tones of different frequencies for subjects.

The results of the study indicated that both men and women with HIV required higher levels of PTA than those who were HIV negative. Further, HIV-positive individuals were more likely to have trouble understanding speech—because of the low-frequency sounds of English vowels and consonants—than those without the disease. Researchers did not find that factors such as HIV viral loads or T-cell numbers affected PTA levels.

Implications for Patients with HIV

After completing the study, researchers determined that most participants with HIV-induced hearing loss were likely suffering from a condition known as sensorineural hearing loss. SNHL was especially common in young HIV-positive patients between ages 18 and 35. Resulting from damage to the inner ear or nerve pathways, the disorder can affect patients’ ability to hear faint sounds clearly. Additionally, it can make speech sound faint or far away. In most cases, SNHL cannot yet be corrected by either medical or surgical means.

The researchers behind the JAMA study say that it’s the first one to show conclusively that HIV can affect a patient’s hearing across the frequency range. If you or someone you know suffers from HIV, don’t hesitate to seek medical treatment and have your hearing evaluated on a regular basis. This is the best way to protect your health and hearing moving forward, while ensuring that SNHL doesn’t affect your ability to succeed at school or at work.

If you or someone you know would like more information about hearing loss and how to prevent or treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!

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