HIV Exposure Before Birth May Raise Kids' Risk of Hearing Loss

FRIDAY, June 22 (HealthDay News) -- Children exposed to HIV in the womb are at increased risk for hearing loss by the time they're in their teens, according to a new study.

The study included more than 200 kids, aged 7 to 16, who had been exposed to HIV before birth. About 60 percent of the children were HIV-positive. Hearing tests were conducted on participants if their parents or caregivers had reported hearing problems, if they had low scores on a standard language test or if their doctors detected hearing problems.

Based on their findings from this group, the researchers estimated that hearing loss affects 9 percent to 15 percent of HIV-infected children and 5 to 8 percent of children who did not have HIV at birth but whose mothers had HIV infection during pregnancy.

Children with HIV infection were about 200 to 300 percent more likely to have hearing loss than those in the general population. Children who were HIV-free but whose mothers had HIV infection during pregnancy were 20 percent more likely to have hearing loss, according to the scientists in a U.S. National Institutes of Health research network led by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).

"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," Dr. George Siberry, of the Pediatric, Adolescent, and Maternal AIDS Branch of the NICHD, said in an NIH news release.

"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," Howard Hoffman, director of the Epidemiology and Statistics Program at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, said in the release.

Previous research has shown that children with HIV are susceptible to middle ear infections, according to the news release, and repeated middle ear infections can cause hearing loss. But 60 percent of the cases of hearing loss in this study were due to problems with the transmission of sound from the nerves of the ear to the brain, rather than ear infection-related damage to the middle ear.

More information

The New Mexico AIDS Education and Training Center has more about HIV and pregnancy.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, news release, June 20, 2012

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