Most people are familiar with the known causes of hearing loss but don’t realize the hazards 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. Recognizing what these hazardous chemicals are and what precautions you should take can help preserve your quality of life.
Some Chemicals Are Hazardous to Your Hearing. Why?
The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic impact on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears which help us hear. At home or in the workplace, individuals can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. They could absorb these chemicals through the skin, ingest, or inhale them. Once these chemicals are in the body, they can impact the sensitive nerves and other parts of the ear. The resulting hearing loss could be temporary or long-term, and the impact is worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, identified five types of chemicals that can be detrimental to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs such as antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can cause damage to your hearing. Any concerns about medication that you may be taking should be discussed with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
- Solvents – Solvents, such as styrene and carbon disulfide, are used in select industries like plastics and insulation. Make sure that if you work in one of these industries, you wear all of your safety equipment and talk to your workplace safety officer about how much you are exposed.
- Asphyxiants – Things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke contain asphyxiants which reduce the amount of oxygen in the air. Dangerous levels of these chemicals can be produced by gas tools, vehicles, stoves and other appliances.
- Metals and Compounds – Metals including mercury and lead have other harmful effects on the body, but they can also cause hearing loss. People in the metal fabrication or furniture industries could get exposed to these metals regularly.
- Nitriles – Nitriles such as 3-Butenenitrile and acrylonitrile are used to make products such as automotive rubber and seals, super glue, and latex gloves. Nitrile-based products can be advantageous because they help repel water, but exposure can damage your hearing.
If You Are Subjected to These Ototoxic Chemicals, What Should You do?
Taking precautions is the key to protecting your hearing. If you work in an industry including plastics, automotive, fire-fighting, pesticide spraying, or construction, ask your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals. If your workplace supplies safety equipment such as protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.
Make sure you adhere to all of the instructions on the labels of your medications before you use them. When you are using any chemicals, if you don’t understand the label, ask for help, and use correct ventilation. Chemicals and noise can have a cumulative impact on your hearing, so if you are around both simultaneously, 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 avoid chemicals. Hearing specialists have experience with the numerous causes of hearing loss and can help you figure out a plan to prevent further damage.