There are many commonly known causes of hearing loss, but not too many people realize the hazards that some chemicals present to their hearing. There is an greater exposure hazard for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Recognizing what these harmful chemicals are and what safeguards you should take can help protect your quality of life.
Certain Chemicals Are Detrimental to Your Hearing. Why?
The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears that assist our hearing. Certain chemicals are ototoxic, and people can be exposed to these chemicals at work or at home. These chemicals can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation, or through the skin. These chemicals, once they’re absorbed into the body, will go into the ear, affecting the delicate nerves. The resultant hearing loss might be temporary or permanent, and the impact is worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, discovered five kinds of chemicals which can be detrimental to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs such as antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can cause damage to your hearing. Talk to your primary physician and your hearing health specialist about any hazards presented by your medications.
- Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants lower the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Dangerous levels of these chemicals can be produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances.
- Solvents – Solvents, such as styrene and carbon disulfide, are used in some industries like plastics and insulation. Be sure that if you work in one of these industries, you use all of your safety equipment and talk to your workplace safety officer about how much you are exposed.
- Nitriles – Nitriles including 3-Butenenitrile and acrylonitrile are used in making products such as automotive rubber and seals, super glue, and latex gloves. Even though your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the benefit of repelling water.
- Metals and Compounds – Metals including mercury and lead have other adverse effects on the body, but they can also lead to hearing loss. These metals are commonly found in the metal fabrication and furniture industries.
What Should You do if You’re Exposed to Ototoxic Chemicals?
The trick to safeguarding your hearing from chemical exposure is to take precautions. Ask your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals if you work in the pesticide spraying, construction, plastics, automotive, or fire-fighting fields. Be sure you utilize every safety material your job supplies, including protective garment, gloves, and masks.
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 proper ventilation. Take additional precautions if you are exposed to noise at the same time as chemicals because the two can have a cumulative impact on your hearing. If you can’t avoid chemicals or are on medications, be certain you have regular hearing tests so you can try to nip any problems in the bud. Hearing specialists are experienced in dealing with the numerous causes of hearing loss and can help you come up with a plan to stop further damage.