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Bilirubin and the Auditory System


The auditory system is highly sensitive to bilirubin toxicity. Damage to the auditory nervous system includes auditory neuropathy or auditory dyssynchrony and auditory processing problems which may occur with or without deafness, hearing loss. Auditory dysfunction may occur in children with or without other signs of classical kernicterus. Bilirubin selectively damages the brainstem auditory nuclei, and may also damage the auditory nerve and spiral ganglion containing cell bodies of primary auditory neurons. The inner ear, thalamic and cortical auditory pathways appear to be spared. Noninvasive auditory neurophysiological tests such as the auditory brainstem response (ABR) or brainstem auditory response (BAER) play an important role in the early detection of bilirubin-induced auditory and central nervous system dysfunction in the neonate.


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Correspondence to Steven M Shapiro MD.

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Shapiro, S., Nakamura, H. Bilirubin and the Auditory System. J Perinatol 21, S52–S55 (2001).

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