Lead May Have Caused Beethoven’s Hearing Loss, But…


Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the greatest composers of all time, made more famous because he wrote many of his symphonies after he had gone completely deaf at the age of 46. A new theory proposes that his deafness may have been caused by lead poisoning. Beethoven regularly drank from a lead gauntlet, and during the time he lived, lead was often added to the inexpensive wines he drank to improve the flavor. In 2018, a 64-year-old Italian woman was found to be suffering from deafness and other symptoms similar to Beethoven’s after eating food cooked on a lead pan for several years.

Today, we know lead should never be ingested because it can cause a host of health problems in addition to deafness. However, there are many other common chemicals you should avoid, or use infrequently, to prevent damage to your ears and ensure your healthy hearing remains intact.

For example, coming into contact with ototoxic chemicals can cause considerable damage to your inner ear. Once these substances enter the bloodstream, they can travel to your ears, be absorbed by the auditory nerves and ultimately cause hearing loss. In addition to hearing loss, ototoxic chemicals can cause tinnitus, which causes a ringing sound in the ears, as well as balance problems.

Common Chemicals That Cause Hearing Loss

Ototoxic substances are often found in cleansers, paint, paint thinners, varnishes, glue, pesticides, polystyrene, degreasers and carbon monoxide. If you are concerned about a chemical you are using, you should check the label for:

  • arsenic
  • benzene
  • carbon disulfide
  • toluene
  • trichloroethylene
  • xylene

Try to minimize your exposure to these chemicals as much as possible to reduce the potential of future health issues. If possible, seek out a water-based chemical when one is available.

Ototoxic chemicals can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. If you are working with these chemicals on the job or at home, you should wear proper protective gear, including gloves and breathing masks, and clean the substances from your skin if you come into direct contact with them. You should also use these chemicals only in well-ventilated areas. Be sure to open windows and doors to ensure proper ventilation.

If you are working with an ototoxic chemical, and find yourself suffering from one of the following symptoms, you should stop using the substance immediately and move to a safe area away from the chemical.

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Blurry vision or other vision problems
  • Difficulty walking
  • Unexplained fatigue

Other ototoxic substances that can cause hearing loss include asphyxiants, such as the carbon monoxide found in automobile exhaust, and metals such as mercury, organic tin compounds, germanium dioxide, and of course, lead – which may have been the cause of Beethoven’s deafness, in addition to his other health problems.

Drugs Related to Hearing Loss

In 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration alerted men taking Cialis, Levitra, and Viagra that taking these medications may lead to sudden hearing loss.

Additionally, antibiotics, such as gentamicin and neomycin, have been shown to contribute to potential hearing loss. As for over-the-counter medications, aspirin may contribute to hearing loss when taken in large doses, and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, may also contribute to hearing loss.

The best course of action is to avoid ototoxic chemicals when you can, and use them sparingly when you must. Limiting your exposure to ototoxic chemicals, and taking prescription and over-the-counter medications in moderation will help ensure you avoid substances that can potentially cause serious health issues, including hearing loss, tinnitus or deafness. If you believe you are suffering from hearing loss as a result of exposure to an ototoxic chemical or other substance, you should consult a hearing professional immediately so you can reduce the adverse effects on your hearing and prevent the condition from getting worse.

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