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Hearing Blog


June 12, 2020

Ototoxic chemicals can cause major issues with hearing.  Ototoxic simply means; “having a toxic effect on the ear or its nerve supply.”  OSHA classifies ototoxic chemicals into five groups.  These are: metals / compounds,  solvents, pharmaceuticals-which include analgesics and antibiotics, asphyxiants...including tobacco smoke and carbon monoxide.   These chemicals which can cause hearing loss and also balance problems are known as Ototoxicants.  

          Chemicals in these groups that are inhaled or absorbed through the skin increases the risk of hearing loss.  Specifically, chemicals found in some pesticides or solvents effect the body differently.

Even certain medications will effect the body differently when analyzing effects on hearing.

          When workers were exposed to Ototoxicants and then also exposed to elevated noise levels they experienced a higher risk of hearing loss.  What type of industry did you work in?  Or do you work in?

Jobs that have a high exposure risk to the dangerous Ototoxicants include construction, mining, utilities and also agriculture.  Manufacturing jobs such as metal fabricators, apparel, painters, ship and boat builders and textile workers.  All of these jobs include ototoxic chemicals and noise exposure.

          This means that not just the noise exposure is causing the hearing loss... it is a combination of the toxic chemicals and the amount of noise that the person is exposed to.   Specifically, the type of hearing loss that a person will get is called “speech discrimination dysfunction.”   This causes the concerns for workers and people in general.  With this type of hearing loss a person will have difficulty separating voices from warning signals or ambient noise.   Hearing tests for a patient that has a noise induced hearing loss and an Ototoxicant induced hearing loss look similar on paper.   Research to determine differences at this point is limited.  This type of hearing loss may only be temporary... but if chemical and noise exposure is excessive then this hearing loss may become permanent. 

          Another twist that adds to this dangerous formula of hearing loss is smoking.   Working with chemicals while exposed to loud noise and smoking increases the risk of this type of hearing loss an additional 15- 20%.   Working with toxic chemicals...such as; toluene, styrene, carbon monoxide acrylonitrile and lead have adverse effects on the nerves in the body.   They can damage the brain and the peripheral nervous system.  They can cause damage to your hearing nerves.  If you add noise and smoking then the risk jumps up rapidly. 

          Interesting.  Did you work around noise and chemicals?  Did you smoke?  So many things we work with daily that now come to light about the damage they can be doing to our brain and our hearing.   Employers should take steps to limit dangerous and damaging environments.  Everyone should have a hearing test annually.  Have you had yours?  Call a qualified Hearing Health Care Provider today and start monitoring your hearing health.  To Hear Better Is To Live Better!


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