MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Sharon G. Curhan, MD, ScM
Channing Division of Network Medicine
Department of Internal Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Harvard Medical School Boston, MA 02115
Medical Research: What is the background for this study?
Dr. Curhan: Hearing loss is a highly prevalent and disabling chronic condition that can impair communication, quality of life, and health. Although it is often perceived as an inevitable companion of aging, recent evidence suggests modifiable factors can potentially aid in prevention or slow progression of hearing loss. Alcohol consumption may influence several mechanisms that have been proposed to underlie age-related hearing decline. Although chronic excess alcohol intake has been associated with irreversible hearing loss and acute alcohol intake may temporarily impair auditory function, some evidence suggests that long-term moderate alcohol intake may protect against hearing loss.
Medical Research: What are the main findings?
Dr. Curhan: Our study prospectively examined the association between total alcohol and individual alcoholic beverage (beer, wine, liquor) consumption and risk of hearing loss in 65,424 women who were participants in the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II), aged 27–44 years at baseline (follow-up 1991–2009). During >1 million person-years of follow-up, 12,384 cases of hearing loss were identified.
After multivariate adjustment, we found no overall association between total consumption of alcohol and the risk of hearing loss. In exploratory analyses, we observed an increased risk of hearing loss associated with consumption of beer, and the risk tended to increase with increasing beer consumption. We also observed an inverse association between wine consumption and risk of hearing loss. Specifically, after adjusting for potential confounders as well as the other alcoholic beverages, compared with women who consumed less than 1 serving of beer per month, the relative risk for hearing loss for those who consumed 5+ servings/week of regular beer was 1.15 (95% CI 1.04,1.28; p trend < 0.001). Compared with women who consumed less than 1 serving of wine per month, the multivariate-adjusted relative risk for hearing loss was 0.84 (95% CI 0.77,0.92) for those who consumed 5+ servings/week (p trend < 0.001). No significant association was observed with consumption of liquor.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Curhan: Acquired hearing loss is a very common and often disabling chronic condition that affects up to 48 million individuals in the US in at least one ear. Although hearing loss is often considered to be an unavoidable companion to aging, there may be dietary and lifestyle factors that can be modified that may reduce the risk of hearing loss. Our previous research suggests that maintaining a healthy weight and diet, staying physically active, and limiting the use of over-the-counter analgesics, as well as protecting against excessive noise exposure, may all help reduce the risk of hearing loss. In the current study, total alcohol consumption was not associated with risk of hearing loss in women. The modest associations we observed for beer (direct) and wine (inverse) may be due to chance or uncontrolled confounding factors but merit further study.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Curhan: Future research that examines these and additional potentially modifiable risk factors for hearing loss, such as diet and lifestyle factors, could provide important insight into potential mechanisms that underlie acquired hearing loss and suggest possible strategies for prevention.
Prospective Study of Alcohol Consumption and Self-reported Hearing Loss in Women.
Curhan, Sharon G. et al.
Received: January 14, 2014; Received in revised form: October 16, 2014; Accepted: October 17, 2014; Published Online: October 31, 2014