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Research on Heavy Metals and Hearing Loss in US Adolescents

Heavy Metals Exposure and Hearing Loss in US Adolescents

Research by Josef Shargorodsky, MD, MPH; Sharon G. Curhan, MD, ScM; Elisabeth Henderson, BA; Roland Eavey, MD, SM; Gary C. Curhan, MD, ScD

From Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2011;137(12):1183-1189. doi:10.1001/archoto.2011.202

Introduction Hearing loss is common and, in young persons, can compromise social development and educational achievement. Exposure to heavy metals has been proposed as an important risk factor for hearing loss.

Methods We evaluated the cross-sectional associations between blood lead, blood mercury, and urinary cadmium and arsenic levels and audiometrically determined hearing loss in participants aged 12 to 19 years in the 2005-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey after accounting for the complex survey design. There were 2535 individuals available for analysis of blood lead and mercury levels, 878 for urinary cadmium levels, and 875 for urinary arsenic levels. Multivariate logistic regression was used to calculate adjusted odds ratios (ORs) and 95{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} CIs.

Results A blood lead level greater than or equal to 2 µg/dL (to convert to micromoles per liter, multiply by 0.0483) compared with less than 1 µg/dL was associated with increased odds of high-frequency hearing loss (OR, 2.22; 95{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} CI, 1.39-3.56). Individuals in the highest quartile of urinary cadmium levels had significantly higher odds of low-frequency hearing loss than those in the lowest quartile (OR, 3.08; 95{31ab897a4370feb218155abc15d7b38f5bba01528a749bd66fe114ec092a63fc} CI, 1.02-9.25). There was no overall association between quartiles of blood mercury or urinary arsenic levels and hearing loss.

Conclusion Blood lead levels well below the current recommended action level are associated with substantially increased odds of high-frequency hearing loss.

Author Affiliations: Channing Laboratory (Drs Shargorodsky, S. G. Curhan, and G. C. Curhan) and Renal Division (Dr G. C. Curhan), Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts; Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston (Dr Shargorodsky); Harvard Medical School, Boston (Ms Henderson); Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee (Dr Eavey); and Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston (Dr G. C. Curhan).