Many people are informed about the known causes of hearing loss but don’t comprehend the dangers that commonplace chemicals pose to their hearing. While there are numerous groups of people at risk, those in industries including textiles, petroleum, automotive, plastics, and metal fabrication have increased exposure. Your quality of life can be enhanced by recognizing what these chemicals are and how to be protected.
Why Are Certain Chemicals Harmful to Your Hearing?
The term “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic impact on either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears that help us hear. Particular chemicals are ototoxic, and individuals 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 get into the body, will go into the ear, impacting the delicate nerves. The impact is even worse with high levels of noise exposure, causing temporary or long-term loss of hearing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, identified five types of chemicals that can be hazardous to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs including antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Any questions about medication that you might be taking should be reviewed with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
- Asphyxiants – Things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke contain asphyxiants which lowered the level of oxygen in the air. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances could put out dangerous levels of these chemicals.
- Solvents – Certain industries such as plastics and insulation use solvents such as styrene and carbon disulfide in manufacturing. If you work in these industries, talk to your workplace safety officer about how much exposure you might have, and wear all of your safety equipment.
- Metals and Compounds – Metals like lead and mercury have other adverse effects on the body, but they can also lead to hearing loss. These metals are typically found in the metal fabrication and furniture industries.
- Nitriles – Things like super glue, latex gloves, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Nitrile-based products can be beneficial because they help repel water, but exposure can damage your hearing.
If You Are Exposed to These Ototoxic Chemicals, What Can You do?
Taking precautions is the trick to safeguarding your hearing. Ask your employer about exposure levels to these chemicals if you work in the construction, plastics, pesticide spraying, automotive, or fire-fighting fields. If your workplace offers safety equipment such as protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.
Make sure you follow all of the instructions on the labels of your medications before you use them. Use correct ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for assistance if you can’t decipher 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 impact on your hearing. If you can’t steer clear of chemicals or are on medications, make sure you have regular hearing exams so you can try to nip any problems in the bud. Hearing specialists have experience with the various causes of hearing loss and can help you figure out a plan to prevent further damage.