A Woman Hears Sounds, But Not Words


A US resident suffered from a rare form of deafness.


The female patient, aged 29, temporarily ceased to hear and understand words, but she could easily perceive all the other surrounding sounds.

The woman began to suffer from hearing problems, accompanied by headache, in about two months after the first course of anti-retroviral therapy (the patient is HIV-positive). A month later, she began to notice that talks around her merged into a set of meaningless sounds. At the same time, she did not have any problems reading; she talked freely and perceived non-verbal sounds such as the doorbell or music.

Neurologist Ashok Verma With from The UM Miller School of Medicine came across such a case for the first time in his 22 years’ practice.

The MRI and biopsy results showed two foci of inflammation in the left and right hemispheres of the brain. As a result, doctors found out that the cause of the disease were HIV- encephalitis often found in HIV-infected patients, and immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome. MRI scans also showed that one focus of inflammation spread to the Wernicke’s area, which is responsible for recognizing human speech.

Intravenous steroid treatment helped the patient restore hearing after 5 days. Dr. Verma explained that the brain was hit by the anti-retroviral therapy, but HIV infection itself can not cause a similar disease.