Associations of retinal vessel caliber with hearing status in childhood and midlife: a cross-generational population-based study
journal contributionposted on 01.01.2020, 00:00 authored by J Wang, M Liu, V Sung, Kate LycettKate Lycett, A Grobler, D Burgner, T Y Wong, M Wake
Importance: Microvascular phenotypes, which can be assessed using retinal imaging, may be informative about the life course pathogenesis of hearing loss. Objective: To investigate whether differences in retinal vessel caliber (specifically wider venules and narrower arterioles) are associated with hearing threshold and hearing loss in mid-childhood and midlife. Design, Setting, and Participants: A population-based cross-sectional study (Child Health CheckPoint) was nested within the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. A total of 1281 children and 1255 attending parents were assessed using retinal microvasculature and air conduction audiometry data at a main assessment center in 7 large cities in Australia. Main Outcomes and Measures: Air conduction audiometry was used to calculate the high Fletcher index (mean threshold of 1, 2, and 4 kHz), and bilateral hearing loss was defined as a high Fletcher index greater than 15 dB hearing level in the better-hearing ear. Retinal arteriolar and venular caliber were measured from fundus photographs using validated computer-based software. Linear and logistic regression quantified the associations of retinal vessel caliber with hearing threshold and hearing loss, respectively. Results: Of the 1281 included children (mean age, 11.4 years; 49.1% boys), the mean (SD) high Fletcher index was 7.9 (5.8) dB hearing level. Of the 1255 included adults (mean age, 43.8 years; 86.6% women), the mean (SD) high Fletcher index was 13.0 (6.8) dB hearing level; 109 of 1281 children (8.5%) and 328 of 1255 adults (26.1%) had hearing loss. In adults, each 1-SD (18.6-μm) wider retinal venular caliber (worse) was associated with higher (worse) hearing threshold at lower individual frequencies (eg, 2 kHz: β = 0.63; 95% CI, 0.10-1.17) and overall high Fletcher index (eg, 2 kHz: β = 0.52; 95% CI, 0.07-0.96), as well as a 1.20-fold (95% CI, 1.03-1.40) higher odds of hearing loss. In children, patterns of venular associations were similar but smaller and less certain. Narrower retinal arteriolar caliber (worse) was associated with a 1.16-fold (95% CI, 1.00-1.37) higher odds of hearing loss in adults (per 1-SD [14.0-μm] narrower arteriolar caliber) but not in children. Conclusions and Relevance: Adverse retinal microvascular characteristics are associated with hearing loss by midlife, with venular associations possibly emerging by age 11 to 12 years. Microvascular health may contribute to the pathogenesis of hearing loss across the life course, warranting replication and mechanistic studies to inform causal inference and prevention efforts..