OBJECTIVE:To define mechanisms accounting for transient deafness in three children (two siblings, ages 3 and 6, and an unrelated child, age 15) when they become febrile. DESIGN:Audiometric tests (pure-tone audiometry, speech and sentence comprehension), tympanometry, middle ear muscle reflex thresholds, otoacoustic emissions (OAEs), and electrophysiological methods (auditory brain stem responses [ABRs], sensory evoked potentials, peripheral nerve conduction velocities) were used to test the children when they were afebrile and febrile. RESULTS:ABRs, when afebrile, were abnormal with a profound delay of the IV-V and absence of waves I-III. The ABR in one of the children, tested when febrile, showed no ABR components. Measures of cochlear receptor function using OAEs were normal in both febrile and afebrile states. Cochlear microphonic potentials were present in the three children, and a summating potential was likely present in two. When afebrile, there was a mild threshold elevation for all frequencies in the 15-yr-old and a mild elevation of thresholds for just low frequencies in the two siblings. Speech comprehension in quiet was normal but impaired in noise. One of the siblings tested when febrile had a profound elevation (>80 dB) of pure-tone thresholds and speech comprehension was absent. Acoustic reflexes subserving middle ear muscles and olivocochlear bundle were absent when febrile and when afebrile. No other peripheral or cranial nerve abnormalities were found in any of the children. Sensory nerve action potentials from median nerve in one of the children showed no abnormalities on warming of the hand to 39 degrees C. CONCLUSION:These children have an auditory neuropathy manifested by a disorder of auditory nerve function in the presence of normal cochlear outer hair cell functions. They develop a conduction block of the auditory nerves when their core body temperature rises due, most likely, to a demyelinating disorder of the auditory nerve. The auditory neuropathy in the two affected siblings is likely to be inherited as a recessive disorder.