Modern medicine is often referred to as a miracle, and that is frequently true. We can now treat diseases and conditions that were once fatal to many, and new advances are made every day in the field of medicine. Antibiotics, vaccines, and other life-saving drugs are changing the world as we know it.
However, modern medicine is not always a perfect miracle. Even effective, well-tested drugs can have negative side effects. For years now, medical professionals and researchers have been aware that the use of a certain class of antibiotics called aminoglycosides can result in ototoxicity and hearing loss.
While many medical professionals and researchers are looking to other drugs to treat the same conditions without resulting in hearing loss, the truth remains that aminoglycosides are incredibly effective in working against infections and can be life-saving when used to fight severe bacterial infections. Aminoglycosides are particularly useful when treating newborns with life-threatening infections and are effective against a broad range of bacteria. However, this results in a hearing loss rate among these newborns that is six times higher than the rate among healthy newborns.
A new study shows promise in finding a solution. In this study, researchers used mice to observe the relationship between the infection, the antibiotics, and the inner ear. They found that the hearing loss is caused by inflammation, which is one of the body’s natural responses to infection. Due to the inflammation, the ion channels in the sensory hair cells of the inner ear become more permeable to antibiotics. Because the channels are more permeable, the cells are more sensitive to the drugs’ toxic effects, which leads to ototoxicity.
In addition to finding that the ototoxicity is due to inflammation, researchers also found a potential solution that could help prevent hearing loss. They found that one particular protein involved in ion channels, called TRPV1, allowed the drug to enter the hair cells. When mice were bred without working TRPV1, they did not experience hearing loss caused by the antibiotic.
Dr. Peter Steyger, PhD, who led the research team at Creighton University, hopes that this new information will help prevent hearing loss in patients. He says, “This gives us confidence that otoprotective drugs can be developed to prevent this type of hearing loss.” He is also hopeful that the new observations regarding inflammation will be useful in avoiding hearing loss; more serious infections cause increased inflammation, which makes ototoxicity more likely. This means that patients with severe infections are more susceptible to aminoglycoside-induced hearing loss.
From here, Dr. Steyger and other researchers are eager to continue their studies. They now strive to develop otoprotectants to help prevent this type of hearing loss, in addition to using different antibiotics that will not result in ototoxicity.
If you would like to learn more about antibiotic-induced hearing loss, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with our experienced audiologist, we welcome you to contact our office today. We are eager to meet you!