HIV Positive and PregnancyChildren born to HIV-positive mothers are more likely to have hearing problems than children born to HIV-negative mothers, according to a new study. The hearing loss is typically reported by the age of 16, but some reports occur as early as age 7. The risk of hearing loss is greater in children with and without the HIV infection. According to Dr. George Siberry, exposure to HIV does not mean transmission of HIV. Children who were exposed to HIV in utero were more likely to have hearing problems, even if they lived an HIV-free life. 

Though the risk of developing hearing loss was elevated in all children exposed to HIV, there was a clear divide between children with HIV and those without the virus. Children with HIV were up to 300% more likely to suffer hearing loss by age 16. Children without HIV, but exposed to HIV in utero were up to 20% more likely to suffer hearing loss.

Hearing is crucial to the development of language skills and can impact pace of learning. If medical care providers know children are more likely to have hearing loss they can start testing early and provide personalized care as needed so children don’t experience difficulties in school and other settings. Tests used to determine hearing problems include examination of physical structures of the ear, sound vibration tests and tone testing.

The study focused on about 200 children and teens. All participants were exposed to HIV during gestation, but only 60% contracted the virus. Hearing tests were given if test scores were lower than average, hearing problems were reported or when hearing difficulties were found during a regular screening.

Studies not related to this report have already reported increased risk of middle ear infection in children exposed to HIV. If the child experiences recurring middle ear infections hearing loss can occur. About 60% of cases in one study on hearing loss and HIV found the loss was attributed to nerve damage and not inner ear infection.

Source: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. June 23, 2012.