HIV May Hamper Hearing

HIV patients may have hearing damage unrelated to outside factors like noise exposure

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Hearing loss may not always be the result of too much loud music in your younger days. If you're HIV-positive, hearing loss could be a product of your condition.

New research studied middle-aged men and women who had previously been diagnosed with HIV, or human immunodeficiency virus. The researchers found that both men and women had hearing loss. Although past research indicated a link between hearing loss and HIV, this was the first study to find that hearing loss may occur regardless of other factors, such as environmental noise exposure or medication side effects.

“To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate that HIV+ individuals have poorer hearing across the frequency range after many other factors known to affect hearing have been controlled for,” wrote lead study author Peter Torre III, PhD, of San Diego State University in California, and colleagues.

A positive HIV test doesn’t mean a patient has acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS. It does mean the patient has the HIV virus — which causes AIDS — in his or her body. AIDS is the final stage of HIV infection, in which the patient's damaged immune system cannot fight off infections.

In this study, Dr. Torre and team separated men and women into two groups. The men’s group included 262 men, of whom 117 were HIV-positive. The average age in the men’s group was 57. The women’s group included 134 women, of whom 105 were HIV-positive. The average age in the women’s group was 48.

Dr. Torre and team also collected data on other factors that might affect hearing, such as noise exposure.

The team found that people who were HIV-positive had hearing loss unrelated to other factors — like noise exposure, other medical conditions or medications — that could affect hearing. They noted that the hearing loss was likely to be the result of damage to the nerves that affect hearing.

Dr. Torre and colleagues found that blacks who were HIV-positive were less likely to have high-frequency hearing loss than whites. Older study patients were more likely to have hearing loss than younger ones. Noise exposure did not appear to affect hearing loss.

Although hearing loss is often irreversible, preventive strategies can protect hearing, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. Protecting hearing can be as simple as turning down the volume, covering the ears or wearing ear plugs. Patients should ask their doctors about any medications that could affect their hearing.

This study was published online Dec. 26 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Cancer Institute and General Clinic Research Center, and by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

Dr. Torre and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
December 26, 2014
Last Updated:
December 29, 2014