There are lots of commonly recognized causes of hearing loss, but not too many people realize the hazards that certain chemicals pose to their hearing. There is an increased exposure risk 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 protect yourself.
Why Are Select 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 assist our hearing. At home or in the workplace, people can come in contact with ototoxic chemicals. They may absorb these chemicals through the skin, ingest, or inhale them. 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, leading to temporary or permanent loss of hearing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, defined five kinds of chemicals that can be detrimental to your hearing:
- Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by drugs like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics. Consult your regular physician and your hearing health specialist about any risks presented by your medications.
- Nitriles – Nitriles such as 3-Butenenitrile and acrylonitrile are used in making products such as automotive rubber and seals, super glue, and latex gloves. Nitrile-based products can be practical because they help repel water, but exposure can harm your hearing.
- Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be triggered by metals like lead and mercury which also have other adverse health effects. People in the fabricated metal or furniture industries may be exposed to these metals regularly.
- Solvents – Certain industries like plastics and insulation use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene in manufacturing. Make sure that if you work in one of these industries, you use all of your safety equipment and talk to your workplace safety officer about your level of exposure.
- Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants decrease the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Harmful levels of these chemicals can be produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances.
What Should You do if You’re subjected to Ototoxic Chemicals?
The solution to protecting your hearing from chemical exposure is to take precautions. If you work in an industry such as automotive, fire-fighting, plastics, pesticide spraying, or construction, ask your employer about exposure levels to these chemicals. If your workplace provides safety equipment like protective masks, gloves, or garments, use them.
When you’re at home, read all safety labels on products and adhere to the instructions 100 percent. Use correct ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for assistance if you can’t understand any of the labels. Chemicals and noise can have a cumulative impact on your hearing, so if you are around both at the same time, take additional precautions. Try to nip any potential problem in the bud by having a routine hearing test if you are on medications or if you can’t steer clear of chemicals. Hearing specialists have experience with the various causes of hearing loss and can help you come up with a plan to stop further damage.