What viruses cause hearing loss?

The global presence of Covid-19 means that viruses are very much in the news at the moment. Most people associate hearing loss with loud noise or old age but there are a number of illnesses that can cause hearing loss. Viruses, in particular, are strongly implicated in sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). Indeed, there is even some evidence to suggest that Covid-19 may result in hearing loss.

Viruses can trigger hearing loss in three ways: congenital (taking place at birth), hearing loss occurring over time after the onset of a virus or as a combination of the two. No two people will react in the same way to a virus and not everyone will suffer from hearing loss as the result. In general, very young children are the most at risk group.

Viruses typically cause sensorineural hearing loss as opposed to conductive hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss triggers damage in the cochlea. 

Children are most at risk

Some viruses in pregnant mothers may cause significant harm to their unborn babies. Hearing loss is one type of birth defect associated with viruses. The cytomegalovirus (CMV) is responsible for around 40% of hearing loss in very young children. In fact one out of 200 babies is born with the cytomegalovirus and some 20% of those babies will develop mild to severe hearing loss in the first two years of life. Hearing loss may initially only be present in one ear but may develop later on in the other ear as well.

CMV is a member of the herpes family of viruses and it can remain latent for many years causing illness in immune compromised people. It’s especially critical that you seek urgent medical care if your baby is showing signs of CMV or does not respond to sound. Medical treatment with antiviral drugs may help reduce the severity of hearing loss but you need to keep an eye open for side effects.

German Measles or Rubella is another virus that can lead to severe hearing loss in very young children. The baby is at risk of developing congenital rubella if the mother contracts rubella during the pregnancy. Hearing loss in the baby usually develops within 6 to 12 months of birth and is the result of significant damage to the cochlea. 

A number of viruses from the herpes family can cause congenital hearing loss. These include both HSV 1 & 2. HSV can be passed from an infected mother to the unborn baby in the uterus.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV) is a less common virus that occurs in rodents. It may infect children through contact with mouse urine or droppings. Hearing loss may occur but it is rare. 

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)/AIDs leads to hearing loss in around 33% of HIV infected children. The risks of developing hearing issues as a result of HIV increase with age.

Varicella Zoster Virus, shingles are also from the herpes family of viruses and may trigger hearing loss due to issues with the auditory nerves. Treatment with corticosteroids may be effective.

Can virus associated hearing loss be treated?

Prevention is the best cure for congenital conditions with vaccinations for young women providing the best protection.  In most developed nations viruses such as rubella have been almost completely eradicated thanks to such vaccination programmes. Whilst a number of viruses lead to permanent hearing loss in some cases hearing will spontaneously return when the virus has run its course. Such spontaneous ‘healing’ is often seen with viruses such as the West Nile virus.

Antiviral therapies may be effective although some drugs, especially those used in the treatment of HIV or cancer may be ototoxic and lead to hearing loss. Corticosteroids may be effective for treating some viruses such as Varicella Zoster Virus.

Some researchers believe that viruses cause hearing loss due to oxygen depletion and the resulting oxygen starvation of the cochlea and auditory system. In these cases oxygen therapies may be effective in restoring some hearing

The reality is there are no guarantees that treatments will completely restore your loved one’s hearing. That’s why it is vital to monitor young children’s hearing for signs of any hearing deficiency. This is especially important during those first two critical years when so much social development takes place.

Typical signs of hearing loss such in your child might include the lack of a normal startle pattern in the presence of sudden loud sounds. Slow speech development or the lack of response when you call the child’s name from out of sight are also common signs that you should not ignore

You can download this handy list of early childhood developmental stages to help you keep an eye (and ear) open for any warning signs. If you notice any of these signs you should see a doctor and a hearing professional as soon as possible.

Hearing aids can make life so much easier

Most forms of hearing loss, including virus associated hearing loss, are permanent. However, hearing aids can play a major role in allowing your loved ones to hear the sounds you take for granted. 

Research shows that wearing properly fitted hearing aids not only enhances quality of life, social engagement, and financial well-being but hearing aids can also boost speech and memory. House of Hearing supplies a wide range of the major hearing aid brands and models so there’s a hearing aid that’s just right for you and the youngest of children.Ignoring hearing loss can be detrimental to your loved one’s physical and mental health. Don’t let hearing loss become a major stumbling block; make an appointment to visit a House of Hearing professional today.

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