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There are numerous commonly recognized causes of hearing loss, but not too many people recognize the hazards that some chemicals present to their hearing. While there are a number of groups of people at risk, those in industries including textiles, petroleum, automotive, plastics, and metal fabrication have increased exposure. Recognizing what these hazardous chemicals are and what precautions you should take could help maintain your quality of life.

Why Are Certain Chemicals Detrimental 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 which assist our hearing. At work or at home, individuals can be exposed to ototoxic chemicals. They might absorb these chemicals through the skin, inhale, or ingest them. These chemicals, once they’re absorbed into the body, will travel into the ear, affecting the sensitive nerves. The effect is even worse with high levels of noise exposure, leading to temporary or permanent hearing loss.

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

  • Pharmaceuticals – Drugs like diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics can damage hearing. Any worries about medication that you may be taking should be reviewed with your doctor and your hearing care specialist.
  • Nitriles – Nitriles like 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 advantageous because they help repel water, but exposure can harm your hearing.
  • Solvents – Some industries like plastics and insulation use solvents such as carbon disulfide and styrene in manufacturing. If you work in these industries, talk to your workplace safety officer about the level of exposure you might have, and use all of your safety equipment.
  • Asphyxiants – Asphyxiants lower the amount of oxygen in the air, and include things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide. Vehicles, gas tools, stoves, and other appliances might put out unsafe levels of these chemicals.
  • Metals and Compounds – Metals like mercury and lead have other harmful effects on the body, but they can also cause hearing loss. People in the metal fabrication or furniture industries may get exposed to these metals frequently.

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

Taking precautions is the trick to protecting your hearing. 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 provides safety equipment like 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. Use proper ventilation, including opening windows, and staying away from any chemicals or asking for assistance if you can’t decipher any of the labels. Take additional precautions if you are around noise at the same time as chemicals as the two can have a cumulative effect on your hearing. If you can’t stay away from chemicals or are on medications, be certain you have routine hearing tests so you can try to nip any problems in the bud. The numerous causes of hearing loss are well understood by hearing specialists so make an appointment for a hearing exam in order to stop further damage.

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