Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is associated with a higher risk of hearing loss, according to new research published in Menopause, the journal of the North American Menopause Society.
Because hearing loss becomes more common after menopause, when estrogen and progestogen levels fall off, it has long been assumed that HRT would help reduce the risk of hearing loss.
During the study, which is the largest of its kind, researchers reviewed cases of self-reported hearing loss in 80,972 women. They 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 researchers say that the mechanisms for this association were unclear.
Dr. JoAnn Pinkerton, executive director of the North American Menopause Society, said: ‘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.’
‘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.’
HRT has been a widely debated topic in recent years, and the medical profession seems to have almost come full circle in its opinions and recommendations. This study is observational, which means that it may be subject to some inaccuracies in reporting – of note it is measuring self reported hearing loss – and it cannot demonstrate cause over correlation. However, it shows that women in the study who had a later onset menopause or took HRT had higher rates of hearing loss. The mechanism of why this may be the case was unknown, so the next step would be to carry out more in depth clinical trials in order to establish more information.