Hormone Therapy May Damage Hearing
Study: Hormone Replacement Therapy With Progestin Harms Hearing; Some Skeptical
Sept. 5, 2006 - Middle-aged women who take certain types of hormone
replacement therapy may suffer some hearing loss as a result, new research
suggests. But not all are convinced.
Women in the study who took hormone replacement therapy that included
progestin along with estrogen performed worse on hearing tests than women who
did not take hormone therapy and those who took estrogen alone.
Researcher Robert D. Frisina, PhD, tells WebMD the hearing loss attributable
to progestin use was in the range of 10% to 30%.
It is not clear, however, if length of time on progestin therapy impacts
risk, Frisina says, or if the hearing loss reverses when treatment is
The study was published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences.
"Our findings suggest that this is one more possible side effect that
women should consider when they make their decision about whether or not to
take hormone therapy with progestin," Frisina says. "That is
particularly true for women who already have some hearing loss."
However Wendy Klein, MD, FACP, senior deputy director of the Institute for
Women's Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, says the study was too
small and had too many other limitations to provide useful information to women
considering such therapy.
Smallest Doses, Shortest Time
Hormone therapy -- estrogen plus progestin for women who have not had
hysterectomies, and estrogen alone for those who have -- is widely regarded as
the most effective treatment for hot flashes and other symptoms
related to menopause.
For women with an intact uterus, the addition of progestin in hormone
replacement therapy reduces the risk of uterine
cancer from estrogen.
But hormone therapy use plummeted virtually overnight in the summer of 2002
with the publication of a large, government-run study linking hormone therapy
with an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, blood clots, and breast
Experts now recommend that women take the smallest doses of hormone therapy
they can for the shortest time necessary to effectively treat menopausal
Frisina speculates that progestin may damage hearing by impairing
hearing-related nerve cell receptors within the ear and brain.
He recommends that women who are considering taking progestin have a hearing
test before starting treatment. They should then be tested on a regular basis
every six months or so, while they are on the hormone, he says.
Frisina, who is associate director of the International Center for Hearing
and Speech Research at the Rochester Institute of Technology, says his research
team will continue to study the impact of progestin on hearing.
Among the most important unanswered questions, he says, is whether hearing
loss reverses with discontinuation of treatment and the impact of cumulative
"I would guess that the less time a women is on this therapy the
better," he says.