Can Chickenpox Cause Hearing Loss?

Chicken Pox and Hearing Loss: Is There a Connection?

Girl with Chickenpox in Isolation Room
Girl with chickenpox in isolation room. Pixel_Pig/Getty Images

Chickenpox (varicella zoster) is a viral infection that causes an itchy rash with small, fluid-filled blisters. Chickenpox is highly contagious to people who haven't had the disease or been vaccinated against it. Before routine chickenpox vaccination, virtually all people had been infected by the time they reached adulthood, sometimes with serious complications. Today, the number of cases and hospitalizations is down dramatically.

For most people, chickenpox is a mild disease. Still, it's better to get vaccinated. The chickenpox vaccine is a safe, effective way to prevent chickenpox and its possible complications.

Chicken Pox and Hearing Loss

The chickenpox virus can cause hearing loss in both children and adults. A child who gets chickenpox may be at higher risk for an ear infection, and hearing loss can, but it rarely happens.

In adults older than 60, the chickenpox virus can reactivate itself in a condition known as shingles (herpes zoster). One symptom of shingles is hearing loss. If an adult has not been vaccinated for shingles, the virus can also reactivate in a rare disease called Ramsay Hunt syndrome.

Ramsay Hunt affects the nerve near the inner ear and causes a painful rash. This painful rash can happen on the eardrum, ear canal, or the earlobe. The syndrome produces weakness of the face one side of the face.

In addition, generally, temporary hearing loss can happen in one ear. Treatment involves steroids or antiviral drugs.

Vaccinations

A vaccine is available for chickenpox and shingles. It is still possible to contract a case of chickenpox even after receiving the vaccine, but it usually a very mild case (when I was a child, I was given an experimental chickenpox vaccine, and I developed a very mild case of it with one pox on my stomach and no itching).

Even if you do contract chickenpox, there is a significant reduction in the risk of complications from the condition if you were previously vaccinated, including decreased risk of acute complications like otitis media as well as bacterial superinfection or shingles.

When to See a Doctor

If you suspect that you or your child has chickenpox, consult your doctor. He or she usually can diagnose chickenpox by examining the rash and by noting the presence of accompanying symptoms. Your doctor can also prescribe medications to lessen the severity of chickenpox and treat complications, if necessary. Be sure to call ahead for an appointment and mention you think you or your child has chickenpox, to avoid waiting and possibly infecting others in a waiting room.

Also, be sure to let your doctor know if any of these complications occur:

  • The rash spreads to one or both eyes.
  • The rash gets very red, warm or tender, indicating a possible secondary bacterial skin infection.
  • The rash is accompanied by dizziness, disorientation, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, tremors, loss of muscle coordination, worsening cough, vomiting, stiff neck or a fever higher than 102 F (38.9 C).
  • Anyone in the household is immune deficient or younger than 6 months old.

Sources:

Incidence/Risk Factors. RamsayHunt.org.  http://www.ramsayhunt.org/node/10

Ramsay Hunt syndrome. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001647.htm

Shingles. National Institutes of Health.  http://www.nlm.ni

Continue Reading