Women with menopause tend to wonder if asking for hormone replacement therapy might help relieve their symptoms. In some cases, the doctor might recommend it to soften menopausal issues that are interfering with their lives. While taking hormones can dampen some of those hard to handle side effects, the treatment doesn’t come without risks. For decades, medical science has been researching the effects of replacement hormones on a woman’s system. One of the more recent studies found that taking hormones for too long might even lead to hearing loss.
What Does Menopause Mean?
It’s a phrase referenced often but not one every woman fully understands. Put simply; menopause signals the end of menstrual cycles. It’s a normal part of the aging process but a difficult time for many ladies. When periods stop, the body produces less reproductive hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone.
That drop in hormone levels means a woman can expect some rather unpleasant side effects including:
- Hot flashes
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair
- Dry skin
- Sleep problems
Medical professionals attempt to counteract these ugly side effects by prescribing HRT or hormone replacement therapy.
What is HRT?
Hormone replacement therapy is the medical approach to controlling uncomfortable menopausal symptoms. There are a variety of formulas used for HRT, but the standard order will include either:
- Progesterone and estrogen
- Estrogen alone
The plan is to add more essential hormones to the system and relieve the side effects that occur before, during or after menopause.
The Risks of Hormone Replacement Therapy
There are some true benefits to hormone replacement therapy, but only when used short-term. For example, it can lower a woman’s risk of osteoporosis and make skin look younger. It’s not all good news when it comes to HRT, though. There are some disputed studies that indicate HRT may increase the risk of breast cancer. Long-term use raises the chance of developing heart disease, as well.
Medical science continues to find connections between hearing loss and hormone replacement therapy. Women typically have a lower risk of hearing loss as they age. In fact, men are twice as likely to experience age-related hearing loss. Of the women that do develop it, how many also undergo hormone replacement therapy?
In 2006, Robert D. Frisina, Ph.D., published a study in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences that an estimated 10 to 30 percent of women studied have hearing loss that was related to the use of one specific hormone. The study author explained there is a greater risk for women that already have minor hearing loss, as well.
The 2006 study was ignored by some in the medical community, though, because it was so small. A 2017 report published in Menopause looked at existing research provided by the Nurses’ Health Study II to determine if they could discover a more obvious connection between HRT and loss of hearing in women.
The 2017 Study
The scientists involved in this 2017 study collected and reviewed data from 81,000 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II. At the start of this large-scale analysis project, the participants were between the ages of 27 to 44. The researchers followed them for 22 years while asking women to self-report about their hearing and HRT use.
Of the 81,000 women that took part in the study, around 23 percent indicated some obvious hearing loss as they grew older. They all took therapeutic HRT that included either just estrogen or estrogen plus progestogen. Based on this information, the study authors decided that the use of oral HRT in postmenopausal women for a long period would likely increase their risk of hearing loss.
Should Women Avoid HRT?
That’s a question only a qualified medical practitioner can answer. The study shows there may be a risk of some hearing loss with HRT use, but not all women experienced the same thing. HRT isn’t right for everyone for a number of reasons. It is important that your doctor has all the facts before prescribing this therapy. If you suspect you already have some hearing loss, mention it to your doctor. Consider getting a professional hearing test to use as a baseline, too, so you can monitor your hearing as you grow older whether you take HRT or not.