Measles and Hearing

by Kevin Pederson


Hearing loss can be a result of many different reasons. Usually, hearing loss due to the measles occurs during the childhood. It is also prevalent as congenital rubella among infants. However, those who have not been vaccinated in their childhood can suffer from hearing loss caused by measles or rubella later in life.

In children, infection caused by measles virus is a well known cause of hearing loss. In fact, with measles, deafness is a known complication due to the presence of the live attenuated virus strain, rubella. Measles and hearing loss is also a known occurrence in children with congenital rubella. Hearing problems occur in children and adults who catch measles because the nerves of the brain get damaged as a result of encephalitis, a condition in which swelling of the brain occur. However, unlike rubella, measles does not cause congenital deafness.

Symptoms of hearing loss vary by age. A newborn infant does not show any startle when there is a loud noise nearby, whereas older infants can respond to familiar voices, but they do not respond when spoken to. In children who do not use simple two word sentences by age two, there may be hearing loss.

The two most common tests namely, Auditory Brain Stem Response (ABR) and Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE), help to screen newborn infants for hearing loss.

Measles and Deafness

Measles is caused by a virus and is very contagious. It even leads to death if untreated. Onset of measles starts with high fever, fatigue, sore throat, and body ache. As the disease progress, there will be small red spots all over the body. In some cases, the common symptoms of measles do not occur. Other symptoms of measles include a runny nose, watery eyes, diarrhea, etc.

Measles result in deafness as the measles attack can cause a blockage of the Eustachian tubes from catarrh. The blockage of Eustachian tube causes a collapse in the walls of the middle ear and no air can be pumped up from the throat, thereby causing hearing loss.

Rubella and Hearing Loss

Rubella and hearing loss have close connections. When the mother is infected with the rubella virus during pregnancy, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, congenital rubella occurs in an infant. Congenital rubella causes hearing loss.

Causes of Congenital Rubella

Congenital rubella is a condition in which a child is affected by rubella during pregnancy. When the pregnant woman is infected with rubella virus that causes German measles, the virus can be transmitted to the fetus through placenta. This results in congenital defects such as hearing loss, blindness, stillbirths, etc. Pregnant women who are not vaccinated during pregnancy for rubella have the risk of infecting their unborn baby.

If the pregnant woman has German measles during first 13 weeks of pregnancy, then the baby will have a high risk of having congenital rubella. If the pregnant woman gets rubella attack after the 16th week of pregnancy, the chances of affecting the baby are very low.

One can protect the baby against measles to avert hearing loss. Getting a measles shot helps to avert German measles. This shot is an MMR vaccine. Pregnant women should get a test to check if they are immune against German measles. If they are not immune, they should stay away from people with German measles. However, pregnant women should not get an MMR vaccine during pregnancy as the vaccine also contains live strains of the virus, and it may lead to hearing loss in infants.

Usually, measles symptoms can be spotted immediately. Patients who get measles should get lots of rest and consult with a doctor for a proper course of treatment. Vaccination against measles is vital for children as well as adults so as to avoid hearing loss caused by measles. However, it should be noted that not all cases of measles result in hearing loss.

References:

  1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001658.htm
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002623/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18255204
  4. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007322.htm

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