Many people are aware of the known causes of hearing loss but don’t comprehend the risks that commonplace chemicals present to their hearing. There is an increased exposure hazard for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Knowing what these harmful chemicals are and what measures you should take can help maintain your quality of life.
Why Are Select Chemicals Hazardous to Your Hearing?
The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears that assist our hearing. Specific chemicals are ototoxic, and people can be exposed to these chemicals at work or at home. These chemicals can be absorbed by inhalation, through the skin, or by ingestion. These chemicals, once they get into the body, will go into the ear, impacting the sensitive nerves. The impact is even worse when it comes with high levels of noise exposure, causing temporary or long-term loss of hearing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, defined five kinds of chemicals that can be hazardous to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by medications like antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics. Consult your primary physician and your hearing health specialist about any hazards posed by your medications.
- Solvents – Some industries including plastics and insulation use solvents such as styrene and carbon disulfide in manufacturing. Make sure that if you work in one of these industries, you use all of your safety equipment and speak with your workplace safety officer about your level of exposure.
- Nitriles – Things like super glue, latex gloves, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles including acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Nitrile-based products can be advantageous because they help repel water, but exposure can damage your hearing.
- Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be caused by metals like lead and mercury which also have other harmful health effects. These metals are commonly found in the furniture and metal fabrication industries.
- Asphyxiants – Things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide contain asphyxiants which lower the level of oxygen in the air. Harmful levels of these chemicals can be produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances.
If You Are Subjected to These Ototoxic Chemicals, What Can You do?
Taking precautions is the trick to protecting your hearing. If you work in a sector such as automotive, fire-fighting, plastics, pesticide spraying, or construction, ask your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals. If your workplace provides safety equipment such as protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.
When you are home, read all safety labels on products and adhere to the instructions 100 percent. Use proper ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for help if you can’t understand any of the labels. Noise and chemicals can have a cumulative impact on your hearing, so if you are around both simultaneously, take extra precautions. If you can’t avoid chemicals or are on medications, be certain you have routine hearing exams so you can try to get ahead of any problems. The numerous causes of hearing loss are well known to hearing specialists so make an appointment for a hearing test in order to prevent further damage.