Otosyphilis: Resurgence of an Old Disease

Laryngoscope. 2019 Jul;129(7):1680-1684. doi: 10.1002/lary.27635. Epub 2018 Dec 28.


Objectives: To describe the clinical characteristics of patients presenting with a new diagnosis of otosyphilis over the past 10 years in a large, urban, safety-net hospital affiliated with a large county sexually transmitted disease clinic.

Methods: Retrospective case series. A chart review was performed of all patients who presented to an adult otolaryngology clinic with a new diagnosis of syphilis and hearing loss from January 2008 to December 2017.

Results: Twelve patients met the criteria for "suspected" or "likely" otosyphilis based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definitions. The average age was 48 years (range 19-59). All were male. Nine (75%) were men who have sex with men. Eight (67%) were positive for human immunodeficiency virus. One (8%) presented with primary, nine (75%) with secondary, and two (17%) with early latent syphilis. Seven (58%) presented with bilateral audiogram-confirmed hearing loss, two (17%) with unilateral hearing loss, and three (25%) with suspected hearing loss based on fluctuating symptoms. Nine (75%) presented with tinnitus and two (17%) with vertigo. The median duration of otologic symptoms prior to presentation was 2 weeks (range: 0-16 weeks). All presented within the last 2 years surveyed.

Conclusion: We have seen an increase in the number of otosyphilis cases in our clinic. We suspect otosyphilis may be underdiagnosed and emphasize the importance of screening for syphilis in patients with new audiologic symptoms of vertigo, tinnitus, or hearing loss.

Level of evidence: 4 Laryngoscope, 129:1680-1684, 2019.

Keywords: Syphilis; hearing loss; neurosyphilis; otosyphilis; tinnitus.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • HIV Infections / complications
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / epidemiology
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural / etiology*
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Syphilis / complications*
  • Syphilis / epidemiology
  • Washington / epidemiology