Study finds vitamin E improves outcome of sudden hearing loss

Vitamin E may dramatically boost the chance of recovery for people with sudden hearing loss, report scientists. Sudden hearing loss is defined as “a 30-decibel or greater hearing loss in at least three sequential frequencies within three days.” Thousands of cases occur in North America every year. While most cases have unidentified causes, possible causes include infection, injury, tumour, toxicity, and neurological, circulatory, and metabolic disorders. Recovery occurs within two weeks in about 65% of people who receive no treatment.

Studies suggest that oxidative (free radical) 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 the current study, 66 people with sudden hearing loss 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 600 IU of vitamin E two times per day, while the other did not.

The researchers found that significantly more of those receiving vitamin E had a successful response to treatment than those not receiving vitamin E. Treatment was considered successful when hearing improved by 75% or more. At 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.

The researchers recommend larger placebo-controlled trials to confirm the benefit and to establish the amount of vitamin E needed to see the greatest improvement.

Otology and Neurotology 2003;24:572–5