There are lots of commonly recognized causes of hearing loss, but not too many people recognize the dangers that some chemicals pose to their hearing. There is an increased exposure risk for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Knowing what these hazardous chemicals are and what safeguards you should take can help preserve your quality of life.
Why Are Some Chemicals Hazardous to Your Hearing?
The term “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 work or at home, people can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. These chemicals can be absorbed by inhalation, through the skin, or by ingestion. Once these chemicals get into the body, they can affect the delicate nerves and other parts of the ear. The ensuing hearing loss might be temporary or permanent, and the effect is worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, discovered five types of chemicals that can be harmful to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs like antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Talk to your regular doctor and your hearing health specialist about any risks presented by your medications.
- Asphyxiants – Things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide contain asphyxiants which reduce the level of oxygen in the air. Dangerous levels of these chemicals can be produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances.
- 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 typically found in the metal fabrication and furniture industries.
- Solvents – Some industries including insulation and plastics use solvents such as styrene and carbon disulfide in manufacturing. If you work in these fields, speak with your workplace safety officer about the level of exposure you may have, and use all of your safety equipment.
- Nitriles – Things like latex gloves, super glue, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Nitrile-based products can be advantageous because they help repel water, but exposure can damage your hearing.
What Can You do if You’re Exposed to Ototoxic Chemicals?
The trick to protecting your hearing from exposure to chemicals is to take precautions. Ask your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals if you work in the construction, plastics, pesticide spraying, automotive, or fire-fighting industries. Be certain you utilize every safety material your job provides, like protective garment, gloves, and masks.
When you are 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 correct ventilation. Chemicals and noise can have a cumulative impact on your hearing, so if you are around both simultaneously, take additional precautions. If you can’t stay away from chemicals or are taking medications, be certain you have regular hearing exams so you can try to nip any problems in the bud. The numerous causes of hearing loss are well understood by hearing specialists so schedule an appointment for a hearing exam in order to prevent further damage.