Certain Chemicals May Cause Hearing Loss

Certain Chemicals May Cause Hearing Loss

Are you concerned about your hearing health? With one in eight people in the United States dealing with hearing loss, your chances aren’t low. Most of us know that exposure to loud noise is one of the greatest risks to our hearing, however, there are many other risks to our hearing. This is especially true for people still in the workforce. While the highest concentration of people affected by hearing loss are people 60 years and beyond, 22 million workers have suffered damage to their hearing in the workplace. While 1 out of every 4 or 12 percent of US workers have been repeatedly exposed to dangerous noise, another lesser-known risk to your hearing at work or at home are ototoxic chemicals.

What are Ototoxic Chemicals? 

Ototoxic chemicals constrict blood vessels which can affect the cells of the inner ear. These tiny hairlike cells are the sole delivery system for sound from our ears to our brain and as they become compromised, they can get damaged or destroyed causing permanent hearing loss. There are more than 750 different groups of chemicals which are potentially ototoxic including some prescription and over the counter medications. Ototoxins can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin, causing damage to our hearing which is seldomly diagnosed by healthcare professionals.

Identifying Common Ototoxic Chemicals

How do you know if you are being exposed to ototoxic chemicals at work or at home? OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) mandates that in the workplace any ototoxic chemical must be properly labeled. However, it is up to you to read and take proper safety precautions to protect your hearing.

The most common ototoxic chemical we encounter daily are solvents. Often is a liquid form you can find solvents in the form of:

  • toluene 
  • kerosene
  • xylene
  • ethanol
  • methanol 
  • acetone,
  • turpentine 
  • mineral spirits

In the workplace, you can find solvents to fuel and lubricate machines or in industrial cleaning products. However, you may also come in the forms of gasses, paints, metals, and pesticides. Not only do they damage the cells of your inner ear, but they can amplify the effects of exposure to noise as elevated levels of blood during exposure to noise may act as a catalyst to increase damage to the inner ear. 

Common Occupations Where Ototoxicity is at an Increased Risk

Are you coming into contact with ototoxic chemicals at work? Here are some common professions where you may be at increased risk of ototoxic exposure and damage:

  • construction
  • firefighter 
  • mechanic
  • furniture builder
  • boat builder
  • painter
  • printer
  • welder
  • leatherworker

 In addition, in your everyday life if you work around any petroleum products, then you are at an increased risk. Take note of the chemicals you use every day and read warning labels to check for ototoxicity risks before using.

Effects of Ototoxicity

When you are being exposed to ototoxic chemicals the effects on your hearing are rarely immediate and can be hard to diagnose. However, if you ever feel dizzy or disoriented after being exposed to a chemical which you encounter regularly then it is a common sign that the chemical is damaging the cells of your inner ear. This can manifest as vertigo or balance issues which increases your risk of falls in addition to subtle and gradual damage to your hearing.

Protecting Yourself from Ototoxic Medications

It is important to be aware of the ototoxic exposures in your everyday life at home and at work. While employers are required to provide health and safety information in combination with training on how to use ototoxic chemicals you work with safely, it is ultimately up to you to ensure you protect your hearing. When using airborne ototoxic chemicals at home and at work, be sure to make sure you have plenty of ventilation, such as an exhaust fan running or open window, to minimize the risk. It can also be helpful to stay well hydrated as this can diffuse concentrations of ototoxicity in our system.

Treating Hearing Loss

Prevention is always ideal but not always possible. Hearing loss due to ototoxicity is almost always permanent, however it can be treated using hearing aids. With hearing aids, you can enjoy improved communication and increased awareness of sounds in your environment. To find out if hearing aids are right for you, contact us today to schedule a hearing exam!