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J Occup Environ Med. 2003 Jan;45(1):15-24.

Ototoxic effects of occupational exposure to styrene and co-exposure to styrene and noise.

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Department of Physical Hazards, Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine, 8 St. Teresa St., Lodz, 90-950 Poland.


Ototoxicity of styrene and the synergistic action of styrene and noise have been shown in rats. The respective data in humans are scarce and equivocal. This study evaluated the effects of occupational exposure to styrene and combined exposures to styrene and noise on hearing. The study group, comprised of 290-yacht yard and plastic factory workers, was exposed to a mixture of organic solvents, having styrene as its main compound. The reference group, totaling 223 subjects, included (1) white-collar workers, exposed neither to solvents nor noise and (2) metal factory workers, exposed exclusively to noise. All subjects were assessed by means of a detailed questionnaire and underwent otorhinolaryngological and audiometric examinations. Multiple logistic regression analysis revealed almost a 4-fold (or 3.9; 95% CI = 2.4-6.2) increase in the odds of developing hearing loss related to styrene exposure. The factors adjusted for were: age, gender, current occupational exposure to noise, and exposure to noise in the past. In cases of the combined exposures to styrene and noise, the odds ratios were two to three times higher than the respective values for styrene-only and noise-only exposed subjects. The mean hearing thresholds--adjusted for age, gender, and exposure to noise--were significantly higher in the solvent-exposed group than in the unexposed reference group at all frequencies tested. A positive linear relationship existed between an averaged working life exposure to styrene concentration and a hearing threshold at the frequencies of 6 and 8 kHz. This study provides the epidemiological evidence that occupational exposure to styrene is related to an increased risk of hearing loss. Combined exposures to noise and styrene seem to be more ototoxic than exposure to noise alone.

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