Beware of Hearing Loss When Working with Chemicals

Hearing loss affects about one in five people in American Fork. Usually, it’s the result of excess noise, aging, disease or trauma. Chemicals are another lesser-known cause of hearing loss in Utah.

How Certain Chemicals Harm the Ears

chemicals on a lab bench

Certain chemicals can damage the neural pathways and hair cells of the cochlea when they get into your bloodstream. These are known as ototoxicants and are often found in solvents, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Some are even common household products. The

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a Safety and Health Information Bulletin in 2018 warning about the dangers of these chemicals, which may cause both hearing and balance problems.

OSHA has broken these ototoxicants down into six categories: solvents, pharmaceuticals, nitriles, asphyxiants, compounds and metals. Many are prevalent in industries such as construction, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, utilities, manufacturing and shipbuilding. Metals, textile and paint are especially dangerous, increasing the risk for a specific type of hearing loss called speech dysfunction, which makes it hard to hear voices and warning signals over ambient noise.

Just how many people are affected by hearing loss related to chemical exposure isn’t known. There’s simply no way for hearing tests to determine whether damage is a result of chemicals or other factors. Many of the industries where these chemicals are in heavy use also tend to be noisy, further complicating efforts to distinguish the reason for a hearing impairment.

Making the Workplace Safe

Companies that expose their employees to otoxicants should take extra precautions to protect their workers. Strategies to make the workplace safe include:

  • Identifying chemicals in the workplace that are potentially harmful
  • Handing out Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) created by OSH to let employees know about ototoxicants in the workplace
  • Offering health and safety training classes for workers who come into contact with chemicals and those that are exposed to loud noise
  • Striving to find alternative, safer chemicals
  • Developing safety processes, including enclosures and isolation, designed to reduce employee exposure to chemicals and noise

If your work involves chemicals and you’d like to know if they are dangerous, or want to take precautions to protect your hearing, make an appointment with an American Fork audiologist.

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