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Ototoxicants: Chemicals That Cause Hearing Loss

What Are Ototoxicants?

When you think of work-related hearing loss, you undoubtedly picture large machinery capable of outputting hundreds of decibels during the workday. However, there is an equally dangerous source of hearing loss that most people fail to see, and that’s where ototoxicants come into play.

Simply put, ototoxicants are chemicals that can cause hearing loss. You’ll find them everywhere: the energy, construction, textile, and pharmaceutical industries, just to name a few. Ototoxicant exposure has increased in the last decade, with millions of American workers being exposed to them every day. OSHA and the CDC have recently expanded efforts to educate people on ototoxicants and avoid hearing loss associated with harsh chemicals.

How do ototoxicants affect our hearing? When an ototoxic chemical enters the body through inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption, the chemical runs through the bloodstream until it reaches the inner ear. Each chemical has a different effect, but most damage the inner ear and surrounding neural pathways, which leads to hearing loss. This hearing loss can be partial or complete and have a temporary or permanent effect on your hearing. 

Where You Can Find Them

You should consult OSHA’s guide on ototoxic chemicals for complete information on what chemicals cause hearing loss, but most industries have exposure to ototoxicants, leading to hearing loss in multiple sectors. Manufacturing, mining, construction, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals all rely on ototoxic chemicals.

There has been an increased awareness of these chemicals in recent years and a renewed effort to keep workers safe while working with them. So, now that we know ototoxicants are everywhere, what can we do to protect the people who are exposed to them?

How To Avoid Hearing Loss

It’s impossible to avoid using chemicals that cause hearing loss. You can find ototoxicants in chemicals like carbon monoxide, mercury, lead, and even tobacco smoke. It may be hard to avoid using such a wide array of chemicals, but there are a few steps you can take to reduce hearing loss associated with these chemicals.

  • Identification – The first step to solving any problem should be identification. Start by isolating each chemical used during the workday and finding out if any are ototoxicants.
  • Replacement – You can’t reliably replace every product, but some chemicals can be substituted for non-damaging ones. After identifying your chemical process, determine if any safer substitutions can be made.
  • Using the Right Equipment – Make sure to use the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Mandating the appropriate use of PPE will protect workers from being exposed to chemicals that damage their hearing.
  • Staying Watchful – Ototoxic chemicals can exacerbate areas of your operation where hearing loss is already a risk. Remain aware of any spaces in your process where people are especially at risk of hearing loss from heavy equipment and using ototoxic chemicals.  

We hope you can avoid exposure to chemicals that cause hearing loss or dramatically reduce the risk to you and your employees with this guide. If you believe your hearing has been negatively affected by ototoxicants, take our online hearing test and get the help you need from Amdahl Hearing.