BOSTON—Hearing loss becomes an increasing problem in women as they age. A recent study explored the question of why this happens.

Results of the first large population study to evaluate the role of menopause and hormone replacement therapy with hearing loss were published recently in the journal Menopause. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and colleagues report that both older age at natural menopause and use of oral hormone therapy are linked to greater risk of auditory issues.

Interestingly, previous research looked to hormones as a solution to hearing loss presumably caused by a reduction in circulating estrogen levels in menopausal women, according to background information in the article.

To reach their conclusions, the study team prospectively examined the independent links between menopausal status, oral hormone therapy, and risk of self-reported hearing loss in 80,972 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II followed over a 22-year period ending in 2013.

Nearly a quarter of the participants, 23%, developed hearing loss during that time-period. No significant overall association between menopausal status and risk of hearing loss was pinpointed, although the risk appeared to rise with older age at natural menopause.

At the same time, use of postmenopausal hormone therapy was associated with higher risk of hearing loss, with the risk rising with longer duration of use.

“Many factors contribute to acquired hearing loss, including age, genetics, noise, medical conditions, diet and lifestyle factors,” explained lead author Sharon Curhan, MD, ScM, a researcher at the Channing Division of Network Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Our research focuses on identifying preventable contributors to hearing loss. Although the role of sex hormones in hearing is complex and incompletely understood, these findings suggest that women who undergo natural menopause at an older age may have a higher risk. In addition, longer duration of postmenopausal hormone therapy use is associated with higher risk. These findings suggest that hearing health may be a be a consideration for women when evaluating the risks and benefits of hormone therapy.”

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