Hearing function in patients living with HIV/AIDS

Ear Hear. 2014 Nov-Dec;35(6):e282-90. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000064.


Objectives: During the earlier years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, initial reports described sensorineural hearing loss in up to 49% of individuals with HIV/AIDS. During those years, patients commonly progressed to advanced stages of HIV disease and frequently had neurological complications. However, the abnormalities on pure-tone audiometry and brainstem-evoked responses outlined in small studies were not always consistently correlated with advanced stages of HIV/AIDS. Moreover, these studies could not exclude the confounding effect of concurrent opportunistic infections and syphilis. Additional reports also have indicated that some antiretroviral medications may be ototoxic; thus, it has been difficult to make conclusions regarding the cause of changes in hearing function in HIV-infected patients. More recently, accelerated aging has been suggested as a potential explanation for the disproportionate increase in complications of aging described in many HIV-infected patients; hence, accelerated aging-associated hearing loss may also be playing a role in these patients.

Design: We conducted a large cross-sectional analysis of hearing function in over 300 patients with HIV-1 infection and in 137 HIV-uninfected controls. HIV-infected participants and HIV-uninfected controls underwent a 2-hr battery of hearing tests including the Hearing Handicap Inventory, standard audiometric pure-tone air and bone conduction testing, tympanometric testing, and speech reception and discrimination testing.

Results: Three-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) and logistic regression analysis of 278 eligible HIV-infected subjects stratified by disease stage in early HIV disease (n = 127) and late HIV disease (n = 148) and 120 eligible HIV-uninfected controls revealed no statistically significant differences among the three study groups in either overall 4-frequency pure-tone average (4-PTA) or hearing loss prevalence in either ear. Three-way ANOVA showed significant differences in word recognition scores in the right ear among groups, a significant group effect on tympanogram static admittance in both ears and a significant group effect on tympanic gradient in the right ear. There was significantly larger admittance and gradient in controls as compared to the HIV-infected group at late stage of disease. Hearing loss in the HIV-infected groups was associated with increased age and was similar to that described in the literature for the general population. Three-way ANOVA analysis also indicated significantly greater pure-tone thresholds (worse hearing) at low frequencies in HIV patients in the late stage of disease compared with HIV-uninfected controls. This difference was also found by semi-parametric mixed effects models.

Conclusions: Despite reports of "premature" or "accelerated" aging in HIV-infected subjects, we found no evidence of hearing loss occurring at an earlier age in HIV-infected patients compared to HIV-uninfected controls. Similar to what is described in the general population, the probability of hearing loss increased with age in the HIV-infected subjects and was more common in patients over 60 years of age. Interestingly, HIV-infected subjects had worse hearing at lower frequencies and have significant differences in tympanometry compared to HIV-uninfected controls; these findings deserve further study.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Impedance Tests
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV-1
  • Hearing Loss / epidemiology
  • Hearing Loss / physiopathology
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / epidemiology*
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Speech Discrimination Tests
  • Speech Reception Threshold Test
  • Young Adult