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Your Hearing Can be Harmed by These Chemicals

side angle view of woman's head and ear

A lot of people are aware of the known causes of hearing loss but aren’t aware of the hazards that some commonplace chemicals can also pose to their hearing ability. There are a number of groups of people that are more at risk of hearing loss caused by chemicals, such as those who work in industries including textiles, petroleum, automotive, plastic and metal fabrication, due to increased levels of exposure. Knowing what these hazardous chemicals are and what measures should be taken to avoid them can help to maintain your hearing and your quality of life. 

Why Are Some Chemicals Detrimental to Your Hearing?

The term ototoxic means that something has a toxin impact on either the ears or the nerves inside of the ears which help us with hearing. At home or in our workplaces, people can come into contact with some of these ototoxic chemicals. These chemicals can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation or through the skin. Once the ototoxic chemicals have got into your body, they can easily travel to the delicate nerves and other parts of your ear and cause damage. The hearing loss that follows this can be temporary or permanent, and the effect can often be worse when you are also exposed to high levels of noise. 

There are five kinds of chemicals that have been identified as being harmful to hearing by the Occupation Safety and Health Administration (OSHA): 

  • Pharmaceuticals: Your hearing can be damaged by some drugs, including diuretics, antibiotics and analgesics. If you have any questions or concerns about any medication that you might be taking, you should discuss these with your usual doctor and an audiologist. 
  • Solvents: Some industries, such as insulation and plastics, use solvents like carbon disulfide and styrene in the manufacturing process. If you work in one of these industries, you should speak to the safety officer in your workplace about how much you might be exposed to these solves, and what safety equipment you should use. Make sure you always use all of the safety equipment that you are provided with. 
  • Nitriles: Some things like latex gloves, super glue and rubber automotive seals contain nitriles like acrylonitrile and 3-Butenenitrile. Even though your hearing can be damaged by these nitrile-based chemicals, they have the advantage of repelling water. As with solvents, make sure you use the proper safety equipment to protect yourself when using these nitriles. 
  • Metals and compounds: Some metals, including mercury and lead, can have all kinds of harmful effects on the body. One of these possible harmful effects of these metals is causing hearing loss. You will typically find these metals and compounds in the furniture and metal fabrication industries. Wear the right safety equipment, and limit exposure if you can. 
  • Asphyxiants: Asphyxiants will reduce the amount of oxygen that is in the air. They include things like tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide. Unsafe levels of these chemicals are often produced by vehicles, gas tools, stoves and other appliances. Take steps to protect yourself if you regularly have to work with appliances like this. 

What Can You Do If You Are Subjected to These Ototoxic Chemicals?

The main trick to protecting your hearing from exposure to these potentially dangerous and damaging chemicals is to take the proper, sensible precautions. If you are exposed to these chemicals at work, it’s a good idea to have a conversation with your employer about the levels of exposure, especially if you work in construction, plastics, pesticide spraying, automotive or firefighting. If your workplace supplies you with any kind of safety equipment, such as protective masks, gloves or garments, make sure you use them. 

When you are at home, make sure you read all the safety labels on any products that you use and always follow all the instructions for safe use. If you use any chemicals if you aren’t sure about what the label means, ask someone to help you and be sure to ventilate the room properly. Take more precautions if you are going to be exposed to noise at the same time of the chemicals, as the two can have more of an impact on your hearing when they are combined.

Try to avoid any potential issues by having a routine hearing test if you take any medications or if you can’t avoid chemicals in your daily life. The many causes of hearing loss will be known to an audiologist, so you can make an appointment to get advice about safe use and how to avoid any further damage. 

If you think hearing loss is causing you to miss out on important conversations, contact a team member at Hearing & Balance Specialist of Illinois by calling 775-336-0211.