Most people are familiar with the known causes of hearing loss but don’t realize the risks that commonplace chemicals pose to their hearing. While there are numerous groups of people in danger, those in industries such as textiles, petroleum, automotive, plastics, and metal fabrication have increased exposure. Knowing what these hazardous chemicals are and what precautions you should take might help maintain your quality of life.
Why Are Certain Chemicals Hazardous to Your Hearing?
The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic impact on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears that help us hear. At home or in the workplace, people can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. They could absorb these chemicals through the skin, inhale, or ingest them. These chemicals, once they’re absorbed into the body, will travel into the ear, impacting the sensitive nerves. The effect is even worse with high levels of noise exposure, resulting in temporary or long-term loss of hearing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, identified five kinds of chemicals which can be harmful to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by medications like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics. Any concerns about medication that you might be taking should be reviewed with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
- Nitriles – Things like super glue, latex gloves, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Even though your hearing can be harmed by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.
- Solvents – Certain industries including insulation and plastics use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene in manufacturing. If you work in these industries, speak with your workplace safety officer about how much exposure you may have, and wear all of your safety equipment.
- Metals and Compounds – Metals such as mercury and lead have other adverse effects on the body, but they can also cause hearing loss. These metals are commonly found in the furniture and metal fabrication industries.
- Asphyxiants – Things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide contain asphyxiants which decreased the amount of oxygen in the air. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances might put out dangerous levels of these chemicals.
What Can You do if You’re subjected to Ototoxic Chemicals?
Taking precautions is the trick to safeguarding your hearing. Ask your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals if you work in the construction, plastics, pesticide spraying, automotive, or fire-fighting fields. If your workplace offers safety equipment like protective masks, gloves, or garments, use them.
When you’re at home, read all safety labels on products and adhere to the instructions to the letter. When you are using any chemicals, if your not sure about what the label means, get help, and use proper ventilation. 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. Try to get ahead of any potential problems by having a regular hearing exam if you are on medications or if you can’t avoid chemicals. Hearing specialists are experienced in dealing with the various causes of hearing loss and can help you come up with a plan to avoid further damage.