What might contribute to you losing your hearing differs between men and women

Korean researchers say our weight, whether we smoke, and what hormones we have been exposed to may have a part to play in age-related hearing loss, but that depends on our gender assigned at birth. The researchers investigated the lives of just shy of 2350 participants aged over 60 years, and say, after taking blood tests, doing a body composition test, and a basic hearing test, that being underweight had a significant association with hearing loss in men, both being underweight or obese had significant links in women. Additionally, smoking was linked with hearing loss in men only, and women who had their period at an earlier age were less likely to lose their hearing later in life, opening the question as to whether estrogen has a part to play in protecting against the condition. This kind of study cannot prove that these factors will directly lead to age-related hearing loss, but instead might help in the assessment and preventative treatments for the condition.

Journal/conference: PLOS ONE

Link to research (DOI): 10.1371/journal.pone.0298048

Organisation/s: Chungbuk National University Hospital, Cheongju, Republic of Korea

Funder: The author(s) received no specific
funding for this work.

Media release

From: PLOS

Factors associated with age-related hearing loss differ between males and females

Weight, smoking, and hormone exposure show varying links with risk of age-related hearing loss, per study of 2,349 males and females

Certain factors associated with developing age-related hearing loss differ by sex, including weight, smoking behavior, and hormone exposure, according to a study published on March 6, 2024 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Dong Woo Nam from Chungbuk National University Hospital, South Korea, and colleagues.

Age-related hearing loss (ARHL), slowly-advancing difficulty in hearing high-frequency sounds, makes spoken communication more challenging, often leading to loneliness and depression. Roughly 1 in 5 people around the world suffer from hearing loss, and this number is expected to rise as the global population ages. Since ARHL is irreversible, identifying it early and taking preventative measures are especially important. To better understand the factors associated with ARHL, and how the relative influence of these factors is shaped by sex, the researchers analyzed check-up health examination data from 2,349 participants aged over 60. After gathering each participant’s medical history and performing blood tests, a body composition test, and a basic hearing test, they ran statistical analyses to identify factors most strongly associated with ARHL risk for males and females.

The researchers found that while some factors – such as age – were associated with ARHL regardless of gender, others were differently associated with ARHL risk in males and females. For example, while being underweight showed a significant association with ARHL in males, both low weight and obesity showed significant associations in females. Smoking was associated with increased ARHL risk in males only, who were far more likely than females to identify as smokers in this sample population. Females who started menstruating at an earlier age were less likely to develop ARHL later in life, pointing towards a possible protective effect of the hormone estrogen.

This study does not allow elucidation of causal relationships between these factors and hearing loss, and further experimental studies will be necessary to confirm and better interpret these findings. However, the authors propose that assessing and counseling patients about their smoking behavior, weight, and menstruation may help improve screening and preventative treatment for ARHL.

The authors add: “Hearing loss should be prevented, even it is related to aging.”

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