Test Could Help Treat Hearing Loss

Screen under development spots those with autoimmune-linked trouble

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FRIDAY, Sept. 16 , 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Some hearing loss occurs after the body's own immune system attacks the delicate inner ear. Now, new research may help in the development of a test that could show which patients suffering from this type of hearing impairment will benefit from immediate treatment with steroid drugs.

The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor, and included 63 people with rapidly progressing hearing loss and 20 people with normal hearing. All the hearing-loss patients were suspected of having an autoimmune cause for their hearing loss, and all received steroids to treat the problem.

Researchers found that more than half of the hearing-loss patients had antibodies against a protein called IESCA (inner-ear supporting cell antigen) that's found in the inner ear. The presence of the antibodies is a sign that their immune systems identified IESCA as foreign to the body.

"In all, 28 of the 63 patients experienced improvement in their hearing after steroid treatment, and 35 did not," study senior researcher Thomas Carey, a professor at the U-M Medical School and department chair in the School of Dentistry, said in a prepared statement. He added that the great majority, 89 percent, of those who improved had also tested positive to an antibody for IESCA.

"The results strongly suggest that a direct test for antibodies could accurately predict which patients will regain hearing with steroid treatment," he said.

It would take several years to develop such a test, he noted.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Archives of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.

More information

The American Academy of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery has more about autoimmune inner ear disease.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, September, 2005

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