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Many people are familiar with the known causes of hearing loss but don’t comprehend the hazards that commonplace chemicals present to their hearing. There is an increased exposure hazard for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Recognizing what these harmful chemicals are and what precautions you should take could help protect your quality of life.

Why Are Some 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. Certain chemicals are ototoxic, and individuals can be exposed to these chemicals at home and in the workplace. These chemicals can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation, or through the skin. Once these chemicals get into the body, they can impact the delicate nerves and other parts of the ear. The ensuing hearing loss may be temporary or long-term, 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 hazardous to your hearing:

  • Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by medications like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics. Any concerns about medication that you may be taking should be talked over with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
  • Solvents – Specific industries such as plastics and insulation 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 wear all of your safety equipment.
  • Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Vehicles, stoves, gas tools, and other appliances could put out harmful levels of these chemicals.
  • Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be triggered by metals like mercury and lead which also have other harmful health effects. People in the fabricated metal or furniture industries may get exposed to these metals frequently.
  • Nitriles – Things like super glue, latex gloves, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Even though your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the benefit of repelling water.

What Can You do if You’re Exposed to Ototoxic Chemicals?

The key to protecting 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 industries. If your workplace provides safety equipment including protective masks, gloves, or garments, use them.

When you are 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 help if you can’t decipher any of the labels. Take additional precautions if you are around noise at the same time as chemicals because the two can have a cumulative impact on your hearing. Try to nip any potential problem in the bud by having a regular hearing test if you are on medications or if you can’t steer clear of chemicals. The numerous causes of hearing loss are well known to hearing specialists so make an appointment for a hearing test in order to prevent further damage.

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