Research conducted at the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine in the US shows that the use of aminoglycoside antibiotics poses the greatest risk to patients with inflammatory bacterial infections. The drugs are known to damage the sensory cells in the inner ear that detect sound and motion, because the inflammation that accompanies bacterial infections boosts the uptake of the drug.
Aminoglycoside antibiotics are e.g. used to treat meningitis, bacteremia, respiratory diseases in patients with cystic fibrosis and premature infants with infections in neonatal intensive care.
Research on mice
In the study, healthy mice given a small amount of aminoglycoside experienced a small degree of hearing loss. Mice affected by an inflammation experienced a vastly greater degree of hearing loss.
“If you give a healthy animal, or a healthy human, an aminoglycoside for long enough they will go deaf. If they have an infection that induces an inflammation response, they will lose their hearing much faster,” explains lead author Peter S. Steyger, PhD, professor of otolaryngology, head and neck surgery at the Oregon Hearing Research Center, Oregon Health and Social Science University of Medicine, US.
High risk among infants
Premature infants in neonatal intensive care units are at the greatest risk of these infections. “When infants lose their hearing, they begin a long and arduous process to learn to listen and speak. This can interfere with their educational trajectory and psychosocial development, all of which can have a dramatic impact on their future employability, income, and quality of life,” Steyger explains.
Improvement of care guideline standards
The study authors urge clinicians to choose more targeted antibiotics that do not harm hearing to treat severe infections. They hope their research will lay the groundwork for improving standard of guidelines for patients receiving aminoglycoside antibiotics. “We must swiftly bring to clinics everywhere effective alternatives for treating life-threatening infections that do not sacrifice patient’s ability to hear,” said Steyger.