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Early prediction of postmeningitic hearing loss in children using magnetic resonance imaging.

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether early gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (GdMRI) can reliably detect meningitic labyrinthitis and thereby predict which children are at high risk for hearing loss. Permanent sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) remains a common sequela of bacterial meningitis, and early diagnosis of the associated suppurative labyrinthitis can be difficult, especially in critically ill, sedated patients and young children.

DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.

SETTING: Tertiary pediatric hospital.

PARTICIPANTS: Twenty-three survivors of bacterial meningitis (median age, 15 months [range, 3 months-14 years]) who had undergone brain GdMRI during the acute disease and had subsequent ear-specific audiometric data.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE: Blinded to disease and outcome, a neuroradiologist rated the relative enhancement of each cochlea on T1-weighted images using a 4-point scale. Scores were then correlated with the degree of hearing loss on subsequent testing.

RESULTS: Sensorineural hearing loss occurred in 15 of 46 ears (8 of 23 patients). Enhancement on GdMRI was detected in 13 of the 15 ears that later developed SNHL but was absent in all 31 unaffected ears. Thus, GdMRI was 87% sensitive and 100% specific for predicting which ears would develop permanent SNHL. In the subgroup with pneumococcal meningitis (n = 15), GdMRI was 100% sensitive and 100% specific. Labyrinthine enhancement was detectable as early as 1 day after diagnosis.

CONCLUSION: Gadolinium-enhanced MRI detected meningitic labyrinthitis at early stages and accurately predicted which patients would later develop hearing loss.

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