09 August 2004

Split verdict on HRT and hearing loss

Two studies of postmenopausal women have both provided indications about significant effects by hormone replacement therapy, HRT, on the hearing of those receiving HRT. The results appear to be contradictory, however.

A study conducted in the United States found that postmenopausal women receiving HRT risk damaging their hearing. The performance in hearing tests of HRT treated women was found to be up to 30 percent below that of women who had not received HRT.

The study included 64 women over the age of 60. Half of them were on HRT. All the women were given three kinds of hearing tests. The women receiving HRT performed 10-30 percent below the level of the control group in all three tests. In particular, the women on HRT had difficulty hearing in situations with background noise, such as party settings when the brain must distinguish between the information and the background noise.

The leader of the study, professor Robert Frisina of the University of Rochester Medical Center, found the result surprising. "We thought hormones would help women hear better because of the presence of estrogen receptors in the ear. This is the opposite of what we were expecting," he said.

The expectation that estrogen might aid hearing was supported in the other, earlier, Turkish study including 109 women. In this study the women on estrogen therapy enjoyed significantly better hearing than the women receiving no HRT. However, treatment with a combination of estrogen and progesterone had no noticeable effect on the hearing.

The differing outcomes indicate that the relationship between HRT and hearing is still unclear. Yet, Dr. Frisina believes that women should be warned about the risk of hearing loss associated with some types of HRT. "Our findings raise concerns," he said. "Women should talk to their doctors before making any decisions. And certainly, the findings call for more extensive studies."

Source: Scientists Raise Caution about Effects of HRT on Hearing, University of Rochester Medical Center, February 04, www.urmc.rochester.edu and Effects of Estrogen Therapy on Hearing in Postmenopausal Women, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2004.

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