Among low-birth-weight infants, exposure to stress or undernutrition in utero may adversely affect cochlear development. As cochlear reserve declines, the risk of hearing loss may increase with age. While low birth weight is associated with a higher risk of neonatal hearing loss, our objective was to examine whether birth weight was associated with adult-onset, self-reported hearing loss in the Nurses’ Health Studies (NHS) I and II (n = 113,130).
We used Cox proportional hazards regression to prospectively examine whether birth weight, as well as gestational age at birth, is associated with adult-onset hearing loss. Participants reported their birth weight in 1992 in NHS I and 1991 in NHS II. Mothers of NHS II participants reported gestational age at birth in a substudy (n = 28,590). The primary outcome was adult-onset, self-reported moderate or greater hearing loss, based on questionnaires administered in 2012/2016 in NHS I and 2009/2013 in NHS II.
Our results suggested a higher risk of hearing loss among those with birth weight <5.5 lbs compared with birth weight 7 to <8.5 lbs (pooled multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio 1.14, 95% confidence interval = 1.04–1.23; p trend = 0.01). Additionally, participants with gestational age at birth ≥42 weeks had a higher risk of hearing loss, compared with gestational age 38 to <42 weeks (multivariable-adjusted hazard ratio 1.33, 95% confidence interval = 1.06–1.65).
Birth weight <5.5 lbs was independently associated with higher risk of self-reported, adult-onset hearing loss. In addition, gestational age at birth ≥42 weeks was also associated with higher risk.