Hearing Loss Greater in Kids With HIV

HIV positive children experience greater hearing loss than their peers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Children born to mothers with HIV can live fulfilling lives even if they become infected with HIV. But it's important to know what conditions the children are at a greater risk of developing.

A recent study found that exposure to HIV in the womb can put children at a higher risk for hearing loss by their teen years compared to children not exposed to HIV in the womb.

"If your newborn was exposed to HIV, have his or her hearing checked."

Peter Torre III, PhD, of San Diego State University's School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and colleagues aimed to find out whether children infected with HIV during pregnancy experienced any hearing loss compared to their uninfected peers.

The researchers examined 231 children, aged 7 to 16, including 145 HIV positive children and 86 children who had been exposed to HIV in the womb but had not contracted it. They compared their results to the hearing loss rates of children in the general population.

The researchers conducted hearing examinations in each ear, testing whether the children could hear tones ranging from 500 to 4000 Hz. They averaged the volume where a child could hear the sound at four different frequencies that are necessary to understand human speech.

If the average was more than 20 decibels over what a normal person needs to hear a sound, that was defined as hearing loss. In other words, the child needed the sound to be at least 20 decibels louder than an average child would need to hear it.

The children also received a physical examination of their ear canal, and the researchers looked at how sound vibrations traveled through the children's middle ear bones.

The results revealed that both groups of children experienced greater hearing loss than their peers, though the HIV-infected children had a greater risk of hearing loss.

Children who had HIV were just over twice as likely to have hearing loss. The HIV positive children with severe symptoms of HIV were 2.5 times more likely to have hearing loss.

The children who had been exposed to HIV while in the womb but did not contract it had a 20 percent greater risk of having hearing loss. The researchers took the education level of the children's caregivers into account and adjusted their findings.

The authors noted that past research has found that HIV positive children tend to get middle ear infections, which can also lead to hearing loss. It is possible some of the children in this study had hearing loss from ear infections.

Research has shown, however, that hearing loss in over half of these cases occurred instead with problems related to the sound messages as they are sent from the ear nerves to the brain. The researchers therefore do not believe ear infections are to blame for the bulk of hearing loss in this study.

"Children exposed to HIV before birth are at higher risk for hearing difficulty, and it's important for them―and the health providers who care for them―to be aware of this," said co-author George Siberry, MD, of the Pediatric, Adolescent and Maternal AIDS Branch of the National Institutes of Health division that funded this study.

Co-author Howard Hoffman, MA, an epidemiologist who specializes in deafness, offered some recommendations for caregivers of children with hearing loss.

"If parents and teachers know the child has a hearing problem, then they may take measures to compensate in various communication settings, such as placement in the front of the classroom or avoiding noisy settings," Hoffman, said.

This study was published online May 2 in the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. The research was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Mental Health.

They also received funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 21, 2012
Last Updated:
November 12, 2012