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Most people are informed about the common causes of hearing loss but don’t realize the risks that commonplace chemicals pose to their hearing. There is an increased exposure risk for people who work in metal fabrication, automotive-plastics, petroleum, and textiles. Your quality of life can be improved by knowing what these chemicals are and how to be protected.

Why Are Some Chemicals Harmful to Your Hearing?

The word “ototoxic” means that something has a toxic impact on either the ears themselves or the nerves inside of the ears that help us hear. Particular chemicals are ototoxic, and people can be exposed to these chemicals at work or at home. They could absorb these chemicals through the skin, inhale, or ingest them. These chemicals, once they’re absorbed into the body, will go into the ear, affecting the sensitive nerves. The impact is even worse when it comes with high levels of noise exposure, leading to temporary or long-term loss of hearing.

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

  • Pharmaceuticals – Drugs like antibiotics, diuretics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Consult your primary physician and your hearing health specialist about any risks posed by your medications.
  • Metals and Compounds – Hearing loss can be triggered by metals like lead and mercury which also have other harmful health effects. People in the metal fabrication or furniture industries may get exposed to these metals regularly.
  • Nitriles – Things like super glue, latex gloves, and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Though your hearing can be harmed by these nitrile based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water.
  • Solvents – Certain industries such as insulation and plastics 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.
  • Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants decrease the amount of oxygen in the air, and consist of things like carbon monoxide and tobacco smoke. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances could produce unsafe levels of these chemicals.

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

The solution to protecting your hearing from chemical exposure is to take precautions. If you work in an industry including plastics, automotive, fire-fighting, pesticide spraying, or construction, ask your employer about levels of exposure to these chemicals. If your workplace offers safety equipment including protective garments, masks, or gloves, use them.

Be sure you follow all of the instructions on the labels of your medications before you use them. When you are using any chemicals, if your not sure about what the label means, get help, and use proper ventilation. Chemicals and noise can have a cumulative impact on your hearing, so if you are around both at the same time, take additional precautions. If you can’t avoid chemicals or are taking medications, be certain you have routine 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 prevent further damage.

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