HealthDay News — Inflammation from bacterial infections may increase susceptibility to aminoglycoside-linked hearing impairment by increasing the uptake of the antibiotic into the inner ear, according to experimental research. The findings were published in Science Translational Medicine.

Healthy mice given a low amount of an aminoglycoside developed a small degree of hearing loss. However, mice with an inflammation typical of the infections treated with aminoglycosides in humans had a much greater degree of hearing loss when they were given the antibiotics, the investigators found. 

Inflammation from bacterial infections boosts the uptake of aminoglycosides into the inner ear, substantially increasing the risk of hearing loss, the study authors explained.

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Each year, about 80% of the 600,000 infants admitted to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in the United States receive aminoglycosides, the researchers said. The rate of hearing loss among NICU survivors is 2 to 4 percent, compared with 0.1 to 0.3% of full-term infants who have hearing loss due to birth defects, the authors reported.

“Currently, it’s accepted that the price that some patients have to pay for surviving a life-threatening bacterial infection is the loss of their ability to hear,” Peter Steyger, PhD, professor of otolaryngology, head, and neck surgery at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said in a university news release. 

“We must swiftly bring to clinics everywhere effective alternatives for treating life-threatening infections that do not sacrifice patients’ ability to hear.” 

To protect patients’ hearing, doctors should consider other types of antibiotics to treat severe infections. Plus, researchers need to develop new types of aminoglycosides, the study authors suggested.


1. Koo JW, et al. Sci Transl Med. 2015; 7:298