There are many well known causes of hearing loss, but not many people recognize the dangers that some chemicals pose to their hearing. Groups that are at risk include automotive workers, plastics, textiles, metal fabrication, and petroleum. Knowing what these hazardous chemicals are and what precautions you should take can help preserve your quality of life.
Your hearing could be damaged by some chemicals
The word “ototoxic” means that something is toxic to either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears that help us hear. Specific chemicals are ototoxic, and people can be exposed to these chemicals in the workplace or at home. They may absorb these chemicals through the skin, breathe, or ingest them. Once these chemicals get into the body, they can travel to the fragile nerves and other parts of the ear. Noise exposure will increase the negative effects, whether permanent or temporary, of ototoxic hearing loss.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, defined five types of chemicals that can be harmful to hearing:
- Solvents – Solvents, such as carbon disulfide and styrene, are employed in certain industries such as insulation and plastics. Wear all of your safety equipment and talk to your workplace safety officer if you work in these sectors.
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs, such as antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Talk to your physician and your hearing health specialist about any dangers posed by your medications.
- Asphyxiants – The level of oxygen in the air is reduced by asphyxiants, that includes things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances could put out harmful levels of these chemicals.
- Nitriles – Automotive rubber and seals, super glue and latex glove have nitriles including acrylonitrile and butenenitrile. Nitrile-based products can be useful because they help repel water, but exposure can harm your hearing.
- Metals and compounds – Metals like mercury and lead have other harmful effects on the body, but they can also result in hearing loss. People in the fabricated metal or furniture industries may get exposed to these metals frequently.
If you are exposed to ototoxic chemicals, what can you do?
Taking key precautions is the ideal way to protect your hearing from exposure to chemicals. If you work in an industry such as automotive, firefighting, plastics, pesticide spraying, or construction, ask your employer about exposure levels to these chemicals. Whatever safety equipment that is provided to you, like gloves, masks, or garments, make use of all of it.
When you are at home, go over all safety labels on products and follow the instructions to the letter. Use appropriate ventilation, including opening windows, keeping away from any chemicals, and asking for help if you can’t decipher any of the labels. Take extra precautions if you’re around noise at the same time as chemicals, as the two can have a cumulative impact on your hearing. If you can’t stay away from chemicals or are on medications, make sure you have regular hearing exams so you can attempt to nip any problems in the bud. We can use our experience to help you make a plan to avoid any further damage.