Perfluoroalkyl substances exposure and hearing impairment in US adults


Background: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are widely applied in consumer and industrial products such as nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, food packaging materials, and fire-fighting foams. These “forever chemicals” are hypothesized to impact neurobehavioral functions. Yet no previous study has explored the role of PFAS on audiometrically determined hearing impairment (HI).

Objectives: To investigate the associations of serum concentrations of perfluoroalkyl substances with low-frequency HI (LFHI) and high-frequency HI (HFHI) in US adults.

Methods: We evaluated the cross-sectional associations in 2371 adults aged 20-69 years who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2004, 2011-2012 and 2015-2016; and 449 adults aged ≥70 years from NHANES 2005-2006 and 2009-2010. Serum concentrations of perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA) and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA), were measured using solid-phase extraction coupled to High Performance Liquid Chromatography-Turbo Ion Spray ionization-tandem Mass Spectrometry. LFHI was defined as a pure-tone average (PTA) of thresholds across 0.5-1-2 kHz >25 dB; HFHI defined as a PTA across 3-4-6 kHz >25 dB in the worse ear. Survey-weighted logistic regression models were used to compute odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) with adjustment for age, age-squared, sex, race/ethnicity, education, poverty-to-income ratio, body mass index, smoking status, exposures to occupational, recreational and firearm noises, and NHANES cycles.

Results: There were no significant associations when perfluoroalkyl variables were fitted as a linear (log-transformed) term. However, statistically significant associations of HFHI with PFNA (OR = 1.70, 95% CI: 1.13-2.56) and PFDA (OR = 1.75, 95% CI: 1.00-3.05) were observed when comparing participants with serum concentrations ≥90th vs. <90th percentiles of PFNA (90th percentile = 1.8 ng/mL) and PFDA (90th percentile = 0.5 ng/mL), respectively, in adults aged 20-69 years. No significant associations were observed for other compounds in adults aged 20-69 years and for all compounds in adults ≥70 years.

Conclusions: Our study does not provide strong evidence to support the ototoxicity of PFAS exposure. Non-linear threshold dose-response associations between serum concentrations of PFNA and PFDA and HFHI need further investigation.

Authors: Ning Ding, Sung Kyun Park
; Full Source: Environmental research.  2020 May 18;187:109686. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109686. Online ahead of print.