Menopausal women almost always end up wondering if hormone replacement therapy is the right choice for them. For some, the answer will ultimately be yes because their menopausal symptoms are interfering with their quality of life. While taking therapeutic doses of hormones can certainly help relieve some of those unpleasant side effects, it doesn’t come without risks. For years, researchers have been studying the effects replacement hormones have on a woman’s body. One of the more recent research projects found that taking hormones for a long time might even lead to hearing loss.
What exactly is menopause?
It’s a word people hear all their lives but may not actually know what it means. Put simply; menopause is the time in a woman’s life when she stops having menstrual cycles. It’s a natural part of aging but not a pleasant one for many ladies. This cessation of menstruation occurs because the body makes 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.
Does This Mean Women Avoid Hormone Treatments?
That’s a question only a physician or medical practitioner can answer. The latest research does show an increased risk of some hearing loss with HRT use, but, it’s inconclusive since not all women experienced the same thing. Hormone replacement therapy isn’t the right choice for every woman for a number of reasons. Give your doctor all the facts when discussing HRT therapy. If you suspect you already have some hearing loss, you need to mention it. 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.