Hearing management

11 August 2015

Certain antibiotics linked to hearing loss

Certain antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections can put you at greater risk of hearing loss, a new study suggests.

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A certain class of antibiotics used to treat deadly bacterial infections puts patients at high risk for hearing loss, research in mice suggests.

Newborns with life-threatening infections are often given these antibiotics, the researchers said.

Investigators focused on aminoglycoside antibiotics, which doctors rely on to treat meningitis, bacteraemia, and respiratory infections in cystic fibrosis patients. These drugs are known to damage the sensory cells in the inner ear that detect sound and motion.

Healthy mice given a low amount of an aminoglycoside developed a small degree of hearing loss. However, mice with an inflammation typical of the infections treated with aminoglycosides in humans had a much greater degree of hearing loss when they were given the antibiotics, the investigators found.

Inflammation from bacterial infections boosts the uptake of aminoglycosides into the inner ear, substantially increasing the risk of hearing loss, the study authors explained.

Their findings were published online July 29 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

"Currently, it's accepted that the price that some patients have to pay for surviving a life-threatening bacterial infection is the loss of their ability to hear," Peter Steyger, professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said in a university news release.

"We must swiftly bring to clinics everywhere effective alternatives for treating life-threatening infections that do not sacrifice patients' ability to hear," he added.

Each year, about 80 percent of the 600,000 infants admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in the United States receive aminoglycosides, the researchers said. The rate of hearing loss among NICU survivors is 2 to 4 percent, compared with 0.1 to 0.3 percent of full-term infants who have hearing loss due to birth defects, the authors reported.

"When infants lose their hearing, they begin a long and arduous process to learn to listen and speak. This can interfere with their educational trajectory and psychosocial development, all of which can have a dramatic impact on their future employability, income and quality of life," Steyger said.

To protect patients' hearing, doctors should consider other types of antibiotics to treat severe infections. Plus, researchers need to develop new types of aminoglycosides, the study authors suggested.

Read more:

Is inaudible noise making you deaf?

New clues to reversing hearing loss

Shocking things people do to remedy their ear problems

Image: Ear from Shutterstock

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Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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