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Many people are familiar with the common causes of hearing loss but don’t recognize the dangers that commonplace chemicals pose to their hearing. There is an greater exposure risk for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Realizing what these hazardous chemicals are and what precautions you should take can help preserve your quality of life.

Why Are Certain Chemicals Hazardous to Your Hearing?

The term “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears which assist our hearing. At home or in the workplace, people can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. They might absorb these chemicals through the skin, ingest, or inhale them. These chemicals, once they’re absorbed into the body, will travel into the ear, affecting the delicate nerves. The resultant hearing loss might be temporary or long-term, and the impact is worse when noise exposure is also at high levels.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, recognized five types of chemicals that can be hazardous to your hearing:

  • Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by medications like antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics. Consult your regular physician and your hearing health specialist about any hazards posed by your medications.
  • Metals and Compounds – Metals like mercury and lead have other negative effects on the body, but they can also lead to hearing loss. People in the metal fabrication or furniture industries may be exposed to these metals frequently.
  • Solvents – Specific industries including insulation and plastics use solvents such as styrene and carbon disulfide in manufacturing. If you work in these fields, talk to your workplace safety officer about how much exposure you may have, and wear all of your safety equipment.
  • Nitriles – Things like latex gloves, super glue, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles such as acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Even though your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the benefit of repelling water.
  • Asphyxiants – Things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide contain asphyxiants which lowered the amount of oxygen in the air. Harmful levels of these chemicals can be produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances.

If You Are Exposed to These Ototoxic Chemicals, What Should You do?

The key to safeguarding your hearing from chemical exposure is to take precautions. Consult your employer about exposure levels to these chemicals if you work in the pesticide spraying, construction, plastics, automotive, or fire-fighting fields. If your workplace offers safety equipment including protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.

When you are home, read all safety labels on products and follow the instructions to the letter. Use correct ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for help if you can’t decipher any of the labels. Take added precautions if you are around noise at the same time as chemicals because the two can have a cumulative impact on your hearing. If you can’t steer clear of chemicals or are on medications, make sure you have regular hearing exams so you can try to get ahead of any problems. Hearing specialists have experience with the numerous causes of hearing loss and can help you come up with a plan to stop further damage.

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