October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! To any of you who are battling breast cancer, have in the past, or have loved ones who have, we love and support you! We support ongoing medical research and remain optimistic that a cure is on the horizon.
If we take a look at women’s health holistically, did you know that hearing loss, menopause, and hormone therapy have a connection? This is another field with ongoing research that is constantly revealing new connections and exploring how various factors are linked.
Menopause and Hearing Loss
Menopause is a natural part of the aging process when a woman’s ovaries stop releasing an egg every month and menstruation stops. This is accompanied by a drop in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Common symptoms of menopause include hot flashes, trouble sleeping, vaginal dryness, emotional changes, hair loss, changes in libido, sore breasts, and more.
However, some women also experience changes in their hearing or develop tinnitus as menopause approaches. Current research indicates that this is related to the drop in estrogen, although scientists do not exactly understand how estrogen is linked to hearing. We have estrogen receptors in our ears and auditory pathways, but the exact connection between the hormone and hearing health is still unknown.
A recent analysis, led by Dr. Sharon Curhan, MD, who is a physician and epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, reported that both animal and human studies have shown that low estrogen levels can impair hearing. This may be due to alterations in blood flow to the cochlea, which is a hollow tube in the inner ear. A separate study measured hearing and levels of estradiol, which is a form of estrogen. The study assessed 1,830 postmenopausal women and found that those with less estradiol were more likely to have hearing loss.
Hormone Therapy, Hearing Loss, and Tinnitus
Since these studies have found that women with lower levels of estrogen are more likely to have hearing loss, it may seem logical to conclude that hormone therapy, which boosts hormone levels, could help to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
However, Curhan’s team found the opposite to be true. In assessing data collected from more than 47,000 female nurses over a span of 22 years, they found that those who received a course of hormone therapy (HT) for five to ten years had a 15 percent higher risk of hearing loss than those who did not have HT. The team also concluded that the risk of hearing loss increased the longer the woman stayed on HT.
Interestingly, research has found that hormone therapy can lower the rate of tinnitus in perimenopausal women, yet some women who start HT in perimenopause develop tinnitus. The connection between menopause, hormone therapy, and tinnitus is currently not fully understood.
How to Protect Your Hearing
Because some women develop sudden hearing loss, tinnitus, or vertigo when starting hormone therapy, be sure to monitor your hearing if you decide to begin hormone therapy. Dr. Curhan recommends that you stay on HT for only as long as needed. If you do notice changes in your hearing or if you develop sudden hearing loss, tinnitus, or vertigo, contact your medical provider immediately.
Furthermore, you can protect your hearing and your overall health by living a healthy lifestyle. Studies have found that those who follow a diet close to the Mediterranean diet or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) have a lower risk of hearing loss. Be aware of medications that can affect your hearing health as well. Using the over-the-counter pain relievers acetaminophen and ibuprofen two or more times per week may be linked to hearing loss. Finally, avoid loud noises or constant background noise, get your hearing checked, and wear prescribed hearing aids regularly.
To learn more about the connection between menopause, hearing loss, and tinnitus, we invite you to contact our hearing professional today. We look forward to providing you with the information you need.