There are many commonly known causes of hearing loss, but not too many people realize the dangers that certain chemicals present to their hearing. While there are numerous groups of people at risk, those in industries such as textiles, petroleum, automotive, plastics, and metal fabrication have greater exposure. Knowing what these dangerous chemicals are and what measures you should take can help protect your quality of life.
Some Chemicals Are Hazardous 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. At home or in the workplace, people can come in contact with ototoxic chemicals. These chemicals can be absorbed by inhalation, through the skin, or by ingestion. Once these chemicals are in the body, they can affect the delicate nerves and other parts of the ear. The resultant hearing loss could be temporary or long-term, and the effect is worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.
Five kinds of chemicals that can be harmful to your hearing have been identified by OSHA or the Occupation Safety and Health Administration:
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs including diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Speak with your regular doctor and your hearing health professional about any risks posed by your medications.
- Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide. Vehicles, stoves, gas tools, and other appliances could produce dangerous levels of these chemicals.
- Nitriles – Things like super glue, latex gloves, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles such as acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Nitrile-based products can be beneficial because they help repel water, but exposure can damage your hearing.
- Solvents – Certain industries including insulation and plastics use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene in manufacturing. If you work in these fields, talk to your workplace safety officer about the level of exposure you may have, and use all of your safety equipment.
- Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be triggered by metals like lead and mercury which also have other harmful health effects. These metals are typically found in the furniture and metal fabrication industries.
If You Are Subjected to These Ototoxic Chemicals, What Should You do?
The key to protecting your hearing from exposure to chemicals is to take precautions. If you work in an industry like plastics, automotive, fire-fighting, pesticide spraying, or construction, consult your employer about exposure levels to these chemicals. If your workplace supplies safety equipment such as protective masks, gloves, or garments, use them.
When you’re at home, read all safety labels on products and follow the instructions 100 percent. Use proper ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for help if you can’t understand any of the labels. Noise and chemicals can have a cumulative effect on your hearing, so if you are around both at the same time, take additional precautions. If you can’t stay away from chemicals or are on medications, be certain you have routine hearing tests so you can try to nip any problems in the bud. We have experience with the numerous causes of hearing loss and can help you put together a plan to stop further damage.