Effects of Lead Exposure on Auditory Function and Perception Lead exposure can cause a wide range of health problems. Specific effects on auditory function and processing are not well understood. The purpose of this article is to increase awareness of lead ototoxicity through a review of the basic measures of lead in the body, effects of lead exposure ... Article
Article  |   September 01, 2005
Effects of Lead Exposure on Auditory Function and Perception
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Kim Schairer
    Physical Acoustics Laboratory, Boystown National Research Hospital, Omaha, NE
  • Lincoln Gray
    Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX
Article Information
Hearing & Speech Perception / Hearing Disorders / Articles
Article   |   September 01, 2005
Effects of Lead Exposure on Auditory Function and Perception
SIG 6 Perspectives on Hearing and Hearing Disorders: Research and Diagnostics, September 2005, Vol. 9, 22-26. doi:10.1044/hhd9.1.22
SIG 6 Perspectives on Hearing and Hearing Disorders: Research and Diagnostics, September 2005, Vol. 9, 22-26. doi:10.1044/hhd9.1.22
Lead exposure can cause a wide range of health problems. Specific effects on auditory function and processing are not well understood. The purpose of this article is to increase awareness of lead ototoxicity through a review of the basic measures of lead in the body, effects of lead exposure on clinical measures of auditory system function, and effects on processing of more complex sounds.
The following information is summarized from the 1980 World Health Organization (WHO) report. Lead can enter the body through inhalation of contaminated air or through ingestion of contaminated water, soil, and food. Approximately 90% of lead from long-term exposure is stored in the bones and teeth, and the rest is found in blood and soft tissues. Current blood lead levels (PbB), the indicator cited most often in the literature and used in screenings, is an accurate indicator of long-term exposure under stable conditions. Because blood lead has a shorter half-life than bone, average PbB levels over time (PbBm) or bone lead levels may be more accurate indicators of long-term exposure under variable conditions. PbB levels are measured in units of µg/dL. For children, PbB levels of 10 µg/dL are considered to be elevated, and medical evaluation is recommended when levels are ≥20 µg/dL (Centers for Disease Control, 1991). Nevertheless, effects such as learning problems can be observed at levels below 10 µg/dL, there is no known threshold for toxic effects (Bellinger, 2004; Canfield et al., 2003), and effects can persistent long after the exposure (Needleman, Schell, Bellinger, Leviton, & Allred, 1990).
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