Sometimes what you can’t hear can hurt you in unexpected ways. This includes the home environment, where you might be overlooking some common, silent chemical culprits that could have lasting and debilitating effects. We have long been familiar with the fact that noise is directly linked to hearing loss. But it is now widely known there are several categories of chemicals – many found in homes, that can seriously diminish your hearing by damaging nerve fibers and tiny hairs within the ear. These chemicals, known as “Ototoxicants”, can lead to issues with hearing and balance and have nothing to do with noise.
OSHA has categorized ototoxic chemicals into five groups that range from pharmaceuticals, solvents, and asphyxiants, to nitriles, and metals and compounds. While some are common to certain industries, there are numerous chemicals right in our own homes that we need to keep an eye on. Whether keeping pests from the yard, refinishing, varnishing or painting furniture, cleaning rugs or removing spots – or taking medication – the fumes, vapors, and ingestion of some legal household substances can put your hearing at risk. Here, we list common products with ototoxicants that can cause hearing damage:
- Benzene – plastics, paints, cleaning agents, cigarette smoke
- Carbon Disulfide – pesticides
- Carbon Monoxide – cigarette smoke, welding, and gas-powered tools and vehicles
- Styrene – plastics, insulation
- Trichloroethylene – paints, waxes, pesticides, rug cleaners, spot removers
- Toluene – paints, lacquers, adhesives, spray paint
- Xylene – paints, varnishes, thinners
It won’t make you feel any better to know that in the U.S., there are more than 200 medicines – including prescription and over the counter, that can afflict your hearing. There are medications used to treat cancer, heart disease and infections that, depending on the length of time taken, can cause either temporary or permanent damage. Many widely used remedies such as aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can cause temporary hearing loss when taken in large doses. Others serious or more long-term treatment such as aminoglycoside antibiotics or cancer chemotherapy drugs such as cyclophosphamide can cause permanent damage. Diuretics that treat high blood pressure or heart failure can also cause hearing loss depending on the dosage.
Ototoxic chemicals can affect anyone of any age and are absorbed through the body and bloodstream through the skin, by inhalation or ingestion. The damage done to the ears depends on the classification of the chemical (neurotoxicants, cochleotoxicants, or vestibulotoxicants) that can injure the inner ear, neural pathways, nerve fibers or hair cells which act as sensory receptors. All this, in addition to hearing impairment, can cause Tinnitus and loss of balance. In certain instances, sounds not only need to be louder to be detected, but the individual may lose the ability to hear voices separately from background noise which makes hearing loss harder to test or to measure – or to find the cause, using current audiometric testing. Symptoms of “ototoxicity” may include headache, dizziness, pressure in the ear and blurry vision. Specific to hearing you may experience the following:
- Sound distortion
- An inability to differentiate two sounds with similar frequency
- An inability to detect a time gap between sounds
- An inability to localize sound
You can still be the handyman – or woman, and no need to put the kibosh on the next DIY. With some awareness and preventive measures, you can easily safeguard your hearing for home:
- Read the labels on your solvents, paints, compounds, and medications and be aware of ototoxic ingredients.
- Wear protective clothing and masks.
- Consider buying the non-toxic version of whatever you need.
- Periodically monitor your hearing – especially before and during medical treatment.
- Work and store chemicals in well-ventilated areas.
- Properly dispose of ototoxic materials once finished with projects.
These tips will help you protect your hearing and keep you healthy.