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Many people are informed about the known causes of hearing loss but don’t realize the risks 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. Knowing what these harmful chemicals are and what precautions you should take might help maintain your quality of life.

Why Are Some Chemicals Detrimental to Your Hearing?

The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic effect on either the ears themselves or the nerves in the ears that assist our hearing. Certain chemicals are ototoxic, and individuals can be exposed to these chemicals at work or at home. These chemicals can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation, or through the skin. These chemicals, once they get into the body, will go into the ear, affecting the delicate nerves. The impact is even worse when it comes with high levels of noise exposure, leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss.

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

  • Pharmaceuticals – Hearing can be damaged by drugs like antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics. Any concerns about medication that you might be taking should be discussed with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
  • Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be caused by metals like lead and mercury which also have other adverse health effects. These metals are typically found in the furniture and metal fabrication industries.
  • Solvents – Solvents, including carbon disulfide and styrene, are used in certain industries like insulation and plastics. If you work in these fields, speak with your workplace safety officer about the level of exposure you may have, and wear all of your safety equipment.
  • 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 damage your hearing.
  • Asphyxiants – Things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke contain asphyxiants which lowered the level of oxygen in the air. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances may produce unsafe levels of these chemicals.

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

Taking precautions is the trick to safeguarding your hearing. 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 masks, gloves, or garments, use them.

When you are home, read all safety labels on products and follow the instructions to the letter. When you are using any chemicals, if you don’t understand the label, ask for help, and use proper ventilation. Take added precautions if you are exposed to noise at the same time as chemicals as the two can have a cumulative effect on your hearing. Try to nip any potential problem in the bud by having a routine hearing exam if you are on medications or if you can’t steer clear of chemicals. The various causes of hearing loss are well known to hearing specialists so make an appointment for a hearing test in order to avoid further damage.

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