The better to hear you…

Posted by on Aug 29, 2011 in aging, hearing loss, menopause | 0 comments

What did you say?!

Did you know that menopause may be a trigger for age-related hearing loss?! Although men start losing the ability to hear high-frequency noise as early as age 30, a similar loss apparently does not become apparent in women until after age 50. This may be due to a protective effect played by female sex hormones, which would mean that as circulating estrogen starts to decline, it sets off a series of actions that trigger age-related hearing loss.

To test this theory, researchers conducted hearing tests (pure tone audiometry, which measures the ability to hear different thresholds) in 104 women who had been in menopause at least one year and were, on average, 51 years old. Hearing tests were repeated a second time roughly seven and a half years later. As a whole, the group of women was neither death or severely hearing impaired and the majority were not using hormones of any kind for their symptoms.

Interestingly, a vast majority of the women had accurate hearing when the study started. And yet, by the second hearing test, hearing decline relating to mid to high frequencies was very apparent, especially among women who were well into menopause (by about five to seven years). On average, these women were losing 1.1 to 1.5 decibals yearly. And even more interesting was the fact that depending on how long women had been in menopause, the hearing loss tending to favor one ear over another; women in menopause four years or less had greater decline in their left ear while their peers who had been in menopause five to seven years had greater decline in their right. This loss balanced out between ears by eight to 13 years into menopause and even appeared to slow.

The researchers say that estrogen appears to protect inner ear function and maintains what they refer to as ‘auditory integrity.’ However, once women enter menopause, there is a rapid, initial decrease in the ability to hear  mid to high frequencies, first in the left ear and then in the right.

There is not too much a person can do about age-related hearing loss except for limit exposure to loud  noise and keep your heart healthy so that blood flow to the ears is not constricted. However, unfortunately, most of us in our early 50s spent a lot of times in our formative years attending concerts, where noise level was the norm, not the exception. Consequently, we may already have a higher risk for hearing loss than our parents, but still a lower risk than our children, who by default, are constantly exposed to loud environments and noise from electronic devices. Add the estrogen factor and well, it’s sort of a losing proposition. Still, it’s helpful to know it’s not all in our heads or in our ears. Or better yet, entirely due to rock n roll.





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