By: Diana Holan, MS
Preeclampsia is a condition that causes blood pressure to rise suddenly and can occur anytime during pregnancy, delivery, and up to six weeks after delivery. It can result in a host of medical problems, including stroke or other blood clotting problems, reduced kidney and liver function, pulmonary edema, seizures, and maternal or infant mortality. It is the most common cause of preterm births. Risk factors include pregnancy during the teen years or after 40; excess weight (>30% BMI); and a family history of hypertension. Notably, a woman may have a normal first pregnancy, but still experience preeclampsia in a subsequent pregnancy.
Research into preeclampsia as a cause of sensorineural hearing loss in these mothers’ infants has shown it to be rare. However, recently, Baylan, et al (2010) decided to check the hearing of the mothers, themselves, who had preeclampsia. Although the prospective study was small (40 women with preeclampsia and 30 women without), they discovered a statistically significant number of these women had permanent, sensorineural hearing loss in the low-frequency hearing range that was due to permanent cochlear damage.
Low-frequency hearing loss, which is much less common than high-frequency loss, affects the range where vowels, some consonants, and many environmental sounds are heard. It can significantly affect communication ability, either in quiet or noisy situations, which in turn may affect the mother-child and family bond. New mothers do not typically receive hearing evaluations on a routine basis, but based on this new evidence, women who have experienced preeclampsia should be referred for audiologic testing at two months postpartum.
Diana Holan, MS, has been practicing audiology for over 20 years in Tucson and is committed to improving communication between patients and their families through the use of state-of-the-art hearing aid technology and various assistive techniques. She received a BS in Speech and Hearing and an MS in Audiology from the University of Arizona.