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There are many commonly known causes of hearing loss, but not too many people recognize the hazards that certain chemicals present to their hearing. There is an increased exposure risk for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Recognizing what these harmful chemicals are and what measures you should take might help protect your quality of life.

Certain Chemicals Are Detrimental to Your Hearing. Why?

The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears which help us hear. At work or at home, individuals can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. They might absorb these chemicals through the skin, ingest, or inhale them. Once these chemicals get into the body, they can impact the sensitive nerves and other portions of the ear. The resultant hearing loss might 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 kinds of chemicals which can be hazardous to your hearing:

  • Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by medications like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics. Talk to your regular doctor and your hearing health specialist about any dangers posed by your medications.
  • Asphyxiants – Things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide contain asphyxiants which decreased the level of oxygen in the air. Harmful levels of these chemicals can be produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances.
  • Metals and Compounds – Metals including mercury and lead have other negative effects on the body, but they can also lead to hearing loss. People in the fabricated metal or furniture industries could get exposed to these metals frequently.
  • Solvents – Specific industries like plastics and insulation use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene in manufacturing. If you work in these fields, speak with your workplace safety officer about the level of exposure you might have, and wear all of your safety equipment.
  • Nitriles – Nitriles including 3-Butenenitrile and acrylonitrile are used to make products such as automotive rubber and seals, super glue, and latex gloves. Though your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.

What Should You do if You’re subjected to Ototoxic Chemicals?

The solution 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 industries. If your workplace offers safety equipment including protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.

When you’re at home, read all safety labels on products and adhere to the instructions to the letter. When you are using any chemicals, if you don’t understand the label, get help, and use proper ventilation. Take additional precautions if you are exposed to noise at the same time as chemicals because the two can have a cumulative effect 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 nip any problems in the bud. Hearing specialists have experience with the various causes of hearing loss and can help you come up with a plan to avoid further damage.

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