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HRT May Accelerate Hearing Loss in Women

Women on Hormone Replacement Therapy Score Worse on Hearing Tests

WebMD Health News

Feb. 25, 2004 -- New research shows older women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may have a harder time hearing than others.

A small, preliminary study raises the question that HRT might increase the risk of hearing loss, but researchers say it's too early to draw any firm conclusions.

The study showed that older women treated with estrogen plus progestin scored 10% to 30% worse on hearing tests than women who had not used HRT.

"These results are very 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," says Robert D. Frisina, PhD, professor of otolaryngology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, in a news release.

Frisina presented the study this week at the midwinter meeting of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology in Daytona, Fla.

Hormones May Speed Hearing Loss

In the study, researchers used three tests to compare the hearing of 32 women between the ages of 60 and 86 who were on HRT with 32 other women who did not use HRT.

They found that the women on HRT performed worse overall, but the HRT group performed the worst in complex settings, such as deciphering a sentence at a noisy cocktail party. In this task, results of testing showed that the women on HRT were about 30% less effectively than the other women.

Researchers say the skill of filtering out unneeded sounds declines naturally with age but this study suggests that HRT may accelerate this decline in hearing loss.

"It's important to alert women that there could be another significant side effect of hormone-replacement therapy," says Frisina. "We know these findings clearly apply to the 64 women studied. What we can't say, from such a small number of people, is the extent to which they apply to everyone. A much larger study is needed."

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