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There are numerous commonly recognized causes of hearing loss, but not too many people realize the hazards that certain chemicals pose to their hearing. While there are numerous groups of people at risk, those in industries including textiles, petroleum, automotive, plastics, and metal fabrication have increased exposure. Your quality of life can be enhanced by recognizing what these chemicals are and how to be protected.

Certain Chemicals Are Harmful to Your Hearing. Why?

The term “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears that assist our hearing. Some chemicals are ototoxic, and people can be exposed to these chemicals at work or at home. These chemicals can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation, or through the skin. Once these chemicals are in the body, they can impact the sensitive nerves and other portions of the ear. The effect is even worse with high levels of noise exposure, causing temporary or permanent loss of hearing.

Five kinds of chemicals that can be harmful to your hearing have been identified by OSHA or the Occupation Safety and Health Administration:

  • Pharmaceuticals – Drugs such as antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can cause damage to your hearing. Any concerns about medication that you may be taking should be talked over with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
  • Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be triggered by metals like lead and mercury which also have other negative health effects. People in the fabricated metal or furniture industries may be exposed to these metals regularly.
  • Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants reduce the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances may produce dangerous levels of these chemicals.
  • Nitriles – Nitriles including 3-Butenenitrile and acrylonitrile are used to make products such as super glue, automotive rubber and seals, and latex gloves. Although your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.
  • Solvents – Some industries like insulation and plastics use solvents such as styrene and carbon disulfide in manufacturing. Make sure that if you work in one of these industries, you wear all of your safety equipment and speak with your workplace safety officer about how much you are exposed.

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

Taking precautions is the key to safeguarding your hearing. Consult your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals if you work in the pesticide spraying, construction, plastics, automotive, or fire-fighting industries. If your workplace supplies safety equipment such as protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.

Make sure you follow 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 added precautions if you are exposed to noise at the same time as chemicals because the two can have a cumulative effect on your hearing. 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 avoid chemicals. The numerous causes of hearing loss are well understood by hearing specialists so make an appointment for a hearing test in order to prevent further damage.

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