Most people are familiar with the common causes of hearing loss but don’t recognize the hazards that everyday chemicals present to their hearing. There is an greater exposure hazard for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Your quality of life can be improved by realizing what these chemicals are and how to be protected.
Certain Chemicals Are Detrimental to Your Hearing. Why?
The term “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears which assist our hearing. Specific chemicals are ototoxic, and people can be exposed to these chemicals at home and in the workplace. They might absorb these chemicals through the skin, ingest, or inhale them. Once these chemicals get into the body, they can affect the sensitive nerves and other parts of the ear. The resulting 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 hazardous to your hearing have been recognized by OSHA or the Occupation Safety and Health Administration:
- Pharmaceuticals – Drugs such as antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Consult your regular physician and your hearing health specialist about any dangers posed by your medications.
- 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.
- Nitriles – Things like latex gloves, super glue, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles including acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Although your hearing can be harmed by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.
- Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide. Dangerous levels of these chemicals can be produced by gas tools, vehicles, stoves and other appliances.
- Solvents – Certain industries such as plastics and insulation use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene in manufacturing. Be sure that if you work in one of these industries, you wear all of your safety equipment and consult your workplace safety officer about your level of exposure.
What Can You do if You’re Exposed to Ototoxic Chemicals?
Taking precautions is the key 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 industries. Be sure you use every safety material your job supplies, like protective garment, gloves, and masks.
Make sure you observe all of the instructions on the labels of your medications before you take them. When you are using any chemicals, if you don’t understand the label, ask for help, and use correct ventilation. Take extra precautions if you are exposed to noise at the same time as chemicals as the two can have a cumulative effect on your hearing. Try to get ahead of any potential problems by having a routine hearing test if you are on medications or if you can’t avoid chemicals. The numerous causes of hearing loss are well understood by hearing specialists so set up an appointment for a hearing test in order to avoid further damage.