This prospective study involved 79 homozygote and heterozygote sickle cell anaemia patients (16 to 50 years old) and a control group of 40 people.
All patients underwent ENT, audiological and brainstem auditory evoked responses (BSER) examinations in order to evaluate the incidence of sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), to identify the changes at the level of the cochlear nerve and the central pathways, and to determine the most vulnerable group, in order to intervene with early prevention and rehabilitation for this condition.
A hearing loss of greater than 20 dB at two or more frequencies was found in 36 (45.57 per cent) sickle cell patients (19 (47.22 per cent) HbSC patients and 17 (43.59 per cent) HbSS patients) and three (7.5 per cent) members of the control group. Homozygote and heterozygote patients, as well as both sexes, were equally affected.
Bilateral hearing loss occurred in 19 (52.78 per cent) patients, unilateral right-sided hearing loss in five (13.89 per cent) patients and unilateral left-sided hearing loss in 12 (33.33 per cent) patients.
Brainstem auditory evoked potential demonstrated a prolonged I–V (III–V) interpeak latency in 13 (25.35 per cent) sickle cell patients (11 men (eight with HbSS) and two women).
The hearing loss in HbSS patients was neural in nature and of earlier onset; the hearing loss in HbSC patients was usually cochlear in nature and of later onset.
Despite high medical standards and 100 per cent social security cover, the high incidence of SNHL in our sickle cell affected patients (the majority with the Benin haplotype) was probably due to their specific haematological profile and to the original geographical distribution of the disease in the tropics.
Our results highlight the necessity for early and regular hearing assessment of sickle cell patients, including BSER examination, especially in male patients with SNHL.