Cystic Fibrosis and the Hearing Loss Connection

Cystic Fibrosis is a chronic, inherited disease which affects the lungs and digestive system from a defective gene and its protein produces unusually thick sticky mucus. Worldwide, 70,000 and nationwide 30,000 children and adults are affected.  Those with CF have their lungs clog which leads to life-threatening lung infections. This mucus can also obstruct the pancreas and stop natural enzymes which help the body break down and absorb food.

Medical advances have helped those with CF to live longer. In the 1950s few lived beyond elementary school age, but now many live to 40 and beyond.  However, some of the treatments can have other effects on the body. Those who receive aminoglycosides for example are at higher risk for developing a sensorineural hearing loss.  But other studies suggest the aminoglycoside is not the only culprit. More research is needed to find other reasons. One or two treatments often do not lead to hearing loss, but statistically if an individual has 5 or more treatments they are at higher risk for hearing loss.

If this antibiotic is so potentially ototoxic, why use it? CF patients are prone to developing infections of the pulmonary and sinonasal systems. Aminoglycosides are used as they are very good at clearing up these life threatening infections. The treatment is considered so effective “that it outweighs the well-know side effects, which include hare cell loss and thus hearing loss.”

Audiologists and other hearing health professionals would like everyone screened at early ages and we have known for over three decades there are ototoxic drugs to treat complications of CF. We need to continue to spread the word on encouraging CF suffers to get their hearing monitored.


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