Vitamin E and Sudden Hearing Loss
People with sudden hearing loss are more likely to recover when vitamin E is added to their treatment, according to a new study in Otology and Neurotology (2003;24:572–5).
Sudden hearing loss is defined as a 30-decibel or greater hearing loss in at least three sequential frequencies within three days. About 4,000 cases are reported in the United States and about 15,000 worldwide every year. Possible causes include infection, injury, tumor, toxicity, and neurological, circulatory, and metabolic disorders; however, the cause of sudden hearing loss remains unidentified in more than 85% of all cases.
Conventional treatment can include the use of steroid medications, medications that dilate blood vessels (vasodilators), medications that prevent blood from clotting (anti-coagulants), and inhaled carbogen (95% oxygen and 5% carbon dioxide). There is little published research supporting the use of any of these treatments. Recovery occurs within two weeks in about 65% of people who receive no treatment. A number of animal studies have suggested that oxidative damage to the inner ear may occur as a result of inflammation and after exposure to traumatic levels of noise and drugs that are toxic to the ear. In other animal studies, vitamin E and other antioxidants have prevented ear damage from drugs known to be toxic to the ear.
In the current study, 66 people hospitalized with sudden hearing loss that had come on no more than seven days prior to entering the study were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Both groups received the basic treatment program, which included bed rest, steroid medication, intravenous magnesium, and inhaled carbogen. In addition, one group received vitamin E, 600 IU two times per day, while the other did not. Treatment was considered successful when hearing improved by 75% or more.
Significantly more of those receiving vitamin E had a successful response to treatment than those not receiving vitamin E. At the time of discharge from the hospital, treatment had been successful in 79% of those receiving vitamin E, but only in 45% of those not receiving vitamin E. At follow-up examinations, successful treatment was noted in 76% of those receiving vitamin E and 56% of those not receiving vitamin E.
The results of this preliminary study demonstrate the potential beneficial effects of vitamin E in cases of sudden hearing loss without known cause. Larger placebo-controlled trials are warranted to confirm this benefit and to establish the amount of vitamin E needed to see the greatest improvement. It will be important for future studies to explore the potential benefits of other antioxidants in treating sudden hearing loss.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, Vermont, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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