There are many well known causes of hearing loss, but not many people realize the dangers that certain chemicals pose to their hearing. At risk groups include automotive workers, plastics, textiles, metal fabrication, and petroleum. Knowing what these hazardous chemicals are and what safeguards you should take can help protect your quality of life.
Some chemicals could be hazardous to your hearing
The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears that help us hear. People can come in contact with chemicals that are “ototoxic” at home or in the workplace. They can 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. The resulting hearing loss could be temporary or permanent, and the effect is even worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, defined five types of chemicals that can be hazardous to hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Your hearing can be harmed by medications that have antibiotics, analgesics, and diuretics. Talk to your physician and your hearing health specialist about any hazards posed by your medications.
- Solvents – Solvents, like carbon disulfide and styrene, are used in certain industries such as insulation and plastics. If you work in these fields, talk to your workplace safety officer about the degree of exposure you may have, and use all of your safety equipment.
- Metals and compounds – Metals like lead and mercury can lead to hearing loss on top of the harm they can do to other parts of the body. Individuals in the fabricated metal or furniture industries may get exposed to these metals often.
- Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants decrease the amount of oxygen in the air and include things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Harmful amounts of these chemicals are frequently put out by things like stoves, gas engines, and other appliances.
- Nitriles – Automotive rubber and seals, super glue and latex glove contain nitriles such as acrylonitrile and butenenitrile. Because nitriles repel water, they are beneficial, but they can also result in hearing loss.
What can you do if you’re exposed to ototoxic chemicals?
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 supplied to you, including gloves, masks, or garments, use all of it.
When you are at home, read all safety labels on products and follow the instructions to the letter. If you can, stay away from any chemicals, open up windows, use appropriate ventilation, and request help with any instructions you don’t understand. Loud noise and chemicals can have a cumulative effect on your hearing so if you find yourself in this kind of scenario, use extra precautions. If you can’t avoid chemicals or are on medications, make sure you have regular hearing examinations so you can attempt to nip any problems in the bud. We can use our experience to help you develop a plan to prevent any further damage.