Inner ear pathology of alpha-galactosidase A deficient mice, a model of Fabry disease.
Hearing loss is a common symptom in Fabry disease, but neither its natural course nor its aetiology has been defined precisely. The aim of this study was to provide a detailed epidemiological description of hearing impairment in patients in the Fabry Outcome Survey (FOS), which is the largest available database of Fabry patients. Questionnaires were completed by 566 Fabry patients, of whom 316 reported ear-related symptoms. Pure-tone audiograms from 86 patients, performed before starting enzyme replacement therapy, were analysed and compared with age- and sex-specific normal values (International Organization for Standardization, ISO 7029). When compared to an age-matched population (ISO 7029), 74% of patients had a threshold elevated above the 95th centile in at least one tested frequency. All frequencies were affected to a similar degree. However, only 14 patients (16%) were clinically affected by hearing impairment according to the age-independent World Health Organization (WHO) classification (mean threshold at 0.5, 1 and 2 kHz worse than 25 dB). Hearing loss was sensorineural in 63 patients (73%) of whom 7 patients (8%) had also a conductive component. One patient had a purely conductive hearing loss. Episodes of sudden hearing loss seemed to occur more frequently than in the general population. Men were affected earlier and more severely than women. Hearing in Fabry disease is significantly worse than in an age-matched general population but leads to clinically relevant hearing impairment in only 16% of cases. It resembles accelerated presbycusis with an additional Fabry-specific strial-type hearing loss.