Many women have reported that menopause and/or the use of hormones has had a direct effect on their hearing ability, but scientific studies on these topics have been conflicting, with some suggesting that hearing does indeed worsen at menopause but that there is some benefit to using hormone therapy (HT).
Now the findings from a large population study of 80,972 women may help clear up any confusion.
The researchers found that being of older age at natural menopause and the use of oral HT are each associated with a higher risk of hearing loss. In fact, women who remained on HT for longer periods of time were at even greater risk of hearing loss.
For most women, menopause occurs between the ages of 45 and 55 with the average age of onset being 51 in the United States. The study is the largest to date to examine the independent associations between menopause and postmenopause use of HT and risk of self-reported hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a common problem, particularly as we get older, with nearly 48 million Americans currently affected. This number is expected to grow as the population continues to age.
Since hearing loss is a lot more prevalent after menopause — the point in a woman’s life when estrogen and progesterone levels drop off — it has long been assumed that HT might help reduce the risk.
After looking at data of self-reported hearing loss in 80,972 women who were enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study II, researchers found that the use of oral HT in postmenopausal women, and for longer durations, was associated with an even higher risk of hearing loss.
The finding that older age at natural menopause was also associated with a higher risk of hearing loss was unexpected, and the exact mechanisms for this association are still unclear.
“The finding from this observational study that women who underwent menopause at a later age and used oral hormone therapy had greater hearing loss was unexpected but should lead to more testing in a randomized, clinical trial,” said Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society (NAMS).
“Information about the potential effect on hearing is important to include in a discussion regarding the risks and benefits of hormone therapy for symptomatic menopausal women.”
The article is published online in the journal Menopause.