The Connection Between Viruses and Hearing Loss

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Viruses and hearing loss

When you think of the causes of hearing loss, what do you think of? If you are like most people, you probably first consider age-related hearing loss or noise-induced hearing loss. While these are both common causes of hearing loss, they are certainly not the only factors that can lead to hearing loss.

Certain viruses can also cause hearing loss. Some of these viruses most frequently affect children and can result in congenital hearing loss, while others may affect adults and lead to acquired hearing loss later in life. Because of this, it is important to seek professional hearing care if you or a loved one experiences sudden hearing loss, no matter your age or perceived health status.

As mentioned, children who suffer from congenital viruses can be at a greater risk for hearing loss. Those viruses include:

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV)

This DNA virus is responsible for most non-genetic cases of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in infants and children. CMV belongs to a group of viruses referred to as TORCHS, which frequently cause hearing loss in children. Among children infected with CMV, hearing loss may develop after the child has already finished their SNHL screenings. If your child is CMV-positive, be sure to keep in mind that your child may develop hearing loss later.

  • Rubella (German Measles)

Rubella can be transmitted through fluids like saliva or phlegm. If an expecting mother is infected with rubella during the pregnancy, the child is at risk of obtaining the congenital form of the virus. Rubella is also part of the TORCHS group; hearing loss may set in at 6-12 months of age.

  • Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV)

This virus cannot be transmitted through human-to-human contact; it is instead spread through contact with rat feces, urine, or saliva. Although hearing loss is not particularly common in children infected with LCMV, it is a documented effect of the virus.

The following viruses can cause either congenital or acquired hearing loss:

  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

This well-known virus can lead to AIDS, as well as a number of other conditions and diseases. Hearing loss is a common side effect of HIV. Approximately two-thirds of children with HIV suffer from SNHL, and about half of those suffer from developed hearing loss.

  • HSV Types 1 & 2

These viruses belong to the herpes family. Both children and adults can acquire HSV types 1 or 2. Adults typically acquire this virus through contact, while children with HSV1 or HSV2-positive mothers may contract the infection in-utero. If it is known that the mother has HSV type 1 or 2, precautions can be taken to prevent infecting the child, including medications, therapies, and cesarean births.

The final group of viruses we will discuss are typically acquired later in life and do not cause congenital hearing loss:

  • West Nile Virus

This virus is typically transmitted by insects–most famously by mosquitos. Fortunately, hearing loss resulting from this virus is rare, and patients often spontaneously recover their hearing.

  • Measles (Rubeola)

Before measles vaccinations were widely available, measles accounted for 5-10 percent of all US cases of profound hearing loss. Thankfully, vaccinations have rendered this virus rare in the United States. However, in areas of the world where vaccinations are not widespread, measles still causes hearing loss.

  • Mumps

The mumps virus belongs to the same family of viruses as measles and can also cause hearing loss. If the virus is properly diagnosed and treated, the hearing loss may be able to be reversed; in other cases, however, the hearing loss is permanent.

  • Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV)

Like HSV, VZV belongs to the herpes family. This virus can lead to problems in the nerves of the face, auditory canal, and tongue, which can cause hearing loss, among other issues. In some cases, the hearing loss can be reversed or alleviated through the use of medications.

If you or a loved one experiences sudden hearing loss for any reason, or if you notice that your hearing ability has changed over time, we urge you to contact our hearing practice. We are committed to providing you with the quality care you need.

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