Age-related hearing loss differs for men and women

Friday, 08 March, 2024

Age-related hearing loss differs for men and women

Around one in five people around the world suffer from hearing loss, and this number is expected to rise as the global population ages.

Age-related hearing loss (ARHL) — slowly advancing difficulty in hearing high-frequency sounds — makes spoken communication more challenging, often leading to loneliness and depression.

A new study published in PLOS ONE by Dong Woo Nam from Chungbuk National University Hospital, South Korea, has found that certain factors associated with developing age-related hearing loss differ by sex.

The study of 2349 males and females aged 60+ showed that weight, smoking and hormone exposure demonstrate varying links with risk of age-related hearing loss.

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.

Meanwhile, 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.

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 analysed check-up health examination data from 2349 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.

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 counselling patients about their smoking behaviour, weight and menstruation may help improve screening and preventative treatment for ARHL.

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