Human immunodeficiency virus can be incredibly debilitating, leaving individuals vulnerable to serious illnesses. On top of this, researchers have now suggested that adults with the virus have poorer low- and high-frequency hearing than adults who do not have the disease.
The findings, published in JAMA Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, come after an evaluation of the pure-tone hearing thresholds of men and women, some with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV+) and some without (HIV-).
HIV is a virus that impairs the immune system, making people with the condition increasingly susceptible to infection and disease. There is currently no cure, but HIV+ individuals can be given a combination of medicines called highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to slow the spread of the virus.
Since HAART became widely used, there has been very little investigation into the relationship between HIV infection and hearing loss, according to the study authors.
"There have been limited data obtained on the effects of HIV-related medication use on hearing loss," they write, "and in the few published studies, it is difficult to attribute the increases in hearing loss specifically to HIV medication use rather than age or cumulative noise exposure."
Dr. Peter Torre III, of San Diego State University in California, and colleagues set out to determine whether HIV disease variables and HAART are associated with changes to pure-tone threshold levels - the softest sounds audible to individuals for the majority of the time.
For the study, the researchers assessed the hearing of 262 men with an average age of 57 and 134 women with an average age of 48.
Of the men, 117 (44.7%) were HIV+, and of the women, 105 (78.4%) were HIV+. Participants were taken from the sites of the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study and the Women's Interagency HIV Study.
Pure-tone threshold levels were measured in both ears in a sound-treated room. The researchers tested a wide range of frequencies, from 250 Hz to 8,000 Hz.
The researchers discovered that high- and low-frequency pure tone averages (LPTA and HPTA) were significantly higher in the better ears of the HIV+ participants, indicating that their hearing was poorer than the HIV- participants.
Even after adjusting the findings for current CD4+ cell count, HIV viral load and long-term exposure to antiretroviral medication, the results remained the same.
"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," write the authors.
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