BACKGROUND : The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has become a global pandemic. With
the improvement of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment regimens, life-expectancy of HIV-positive
individuals has increased. HIV literature suggests that head and neck manifestations may be
the first indication of supressed immunity. Therefore, research regarding the effects of HIV and
new treatment regimens on auditory function remains a priority.
OBJECTIVES : To describe the audiological characteristics and determine the prevalence of
hearing loss and tinnitus in a group of HIV-positive individuals on ARV treatment residing in
a rural province.
METHODS : The study employed a cross-sectional descriptive research design. Participants were
recruited from the clinic and pharmacy waiting areas of a medical centre in a rural area of
Limpopo province, South Africa. Two participant groups, an HIV-positive group (N1 = 60) and
an HIV-negative group (N2 = 32) were included in the study. The test battery comprised a
comprehensive case history and a routine audiological test battery, which included otoscopy,
tympanometry and pure tone audiometry (250 Hz to 8000 Hz).
RESULTS : No statistically significant difference was found regarding the prevalence of hearing
loss in the two participant groups (p = 0.709). However, the prevalence of tinnitus was
significantly higher in the HIV-positive group (p = 0.05).
CONCLUSION : The insignificant difference in the audiological test battery results found between
the two participant groups may be due to improved ARV treatment regimens and management
strategies employed at the medical centre. However, the increased prevalence of tinnitus in the
HIV-positive group may also be attributed to the ARV regimen and/or the result of subtle damage to the auditory system, which was not identified by the current audiological test
battery. More insight may be obtained about the effects of HIV on hearing by employing a
longitudinal research design and inclusion of a more ototoxicity sensitive test battery.