There are numerous commonly recognized causes of hearing loss, but not too many people recognize the dangers that certain chemicals pose 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 precautions you should take can help maintain your quality of life.
Certain Chemicals Are Hazardous to Your Hearing. Why?
The term “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears which assist our hearing. At home or in the workplace, individuals can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. These chemicals can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation, or through the skin. These chemicals, once they get into the body, will go into the ear, impacting the delicate nerves. The effect is even worse with high levels of noise exposure, resulting in temporary or long-term hearing loss.
Five kinds of chemicals that can be hazardous to your hearing have been recognized by OSHA or the Occupation Safety and Health Administration:
- Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by drugs like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics. Any questions about medication that you might be taking should be talked over with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
- Nitriles – Things like latex gloves, super glue, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Although your hearing can be harmed by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.
- Asphyxiants – Things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke contain asphyxiants which decrease the amount of oxygen in the air. Unsafe levels of these chemicals can be produced by gas tools, vehicles, stoves and other appliances.
- Solvents – Some industries like plastics and insulation use solvents such as styrene and carbon disulfide in manufacturing. If you work in these fields, talk to your workplace safety officer about the level of exposure you may have, and use all of your safety equipment.
- Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be caused by metals like mercury and lead which also have other adverse health effects. These metals are frequently found in the furniture and metal fabrication industries.
What Should You do if You’re Exposed to Ototoxic Chemicals?
The trick to protecting your hearing from chemical exposure is to take precautions. If you work in an industry like automotive, fire-fighting, plastics, pesticide spraying, or construction, consult your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals. If your workplace supplies safety equipment including protective masks, gloves, or garments, use them.
When you are home, read all safety labels on products and follow the instructions 100 percent. When you are using any chemicals, if your not sure about what the label means, get help, and use proper ventilation. Chemicals and noise can have a cumulative impact on your hearing, so if you are around both at the same time, take extra precautions. Try to nip any potential problem in the bud by having a routine hearing exam if you are on medications or if you can’t steer clear of chemicals. Hearing specialists are experienced in dealing with the various causes of hearing loss and can help you figure out a plan to stop further damage.