There are numerous commonly recognized causes of hearing loss, but not too many people realize the hazards that some chemicals present to their hearing. There is an increased exposure hazard for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Your quality of life can be improved by knowing what these chemicals are and how to be protected.
Certain Chemicals Are Detrimental 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 that assist our hearing. Specific chemicals are ototoxic, and individuals can be exposed to these chemicals at work or at home. They might absorb these chemicals through the skin, ingest, or inhale them. These chemicals, once they’re absorbed into the body, will travel into the ear, affecting the sensitive nerves. The resultant hearing loss could be temporary or long-term, and the effect is worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.
Five types of chemicals that can be harmful to your hearing have been defined by OSHA or the Occupation Safety and Health Administration:
- Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by drugs like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics. Speak with your regular physician and your hearing health specialist about any dangers posed by your medications.
- Nitriles – Things like latex gloves, super glue, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles such as acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Though your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.
- Metals and Compounds – Metals like mercury and lead have other negative effects on the body, but they can also trigger hearing loss. People in the metal fabrication or furniture industries may get exposed to these metals regularly.
- Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances may produce dangerous levels of these chemicals.
- Solvents – Certain industries including plastics and insulation use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene 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 how much you are exposed.
If You Are Exposed to These Ototoxic Chemicals, What Can You do?
The key to safeguarding your hearing from chemical exposure is to take precautions. Consult your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals if you work in the construction, plastics, pesticide spraying, automotive, or fire-fighting industries. If your workplace offers safety equipment such as protective masks, gloves, or garments, use them.
When you are home, read all safety labels on products and follow the instructions to the letter. Use correct ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for help if you can’t understand any of the labels. Take added precautions if you are around noise at the same time as chemicals as the two can have a cumulative effect on your hearing. If you can’t stay away from chemicals or are taking medications, make sure you have routine hearing tests so you can try to nip any problems in the bud. 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.