Everyone has heard that construction workers are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss, however, OSHA and NIOSH want people to know that exposure to ototoxic chemicals, found at construction sites, can result in problems with your hearing as well. As an ear specialist, we wanted to go over common ototoxic chemicals, which industries are at-risk and how these chemicals can affect your hearing.
Common chemicals in workplaces
Certain solvents, varnishes, asphyxiants, metals and other items commonly found at construction sites have the potential to cause hearing loss. These are considered ototoxic chemicals. When exposed to these ototoxins, whether it be from the fumes, vapors, gasses or mists, one may experience symptoms of hearing loss, a ringing in their ear called tinnitus and even balance problems. These chemicals can enter your body through inhalation, skin absorption and ingestion.
Here are some chemicals commonly found at construction sites that can damage your hearing and affect your balance:
Benzene - found in paints, plastics, cleaning products and cigarette smoke
Carbon disulfide - found in pesticides
Carbon monoxide - found in welding, cigarette smoke and gasoline-powered vehicles and tools
Styrene - found in plastics and insulating material
Trichloroethylene - found in paints, waxes, pesticides, lubricants, rug cleaners and spot remover
Toluene - found in paints, lacquers, rubber, adhesives, leather tanning and spray paint
Xylene - found in paints, varnishes and thinners
Industries and workers at risk
If you work in manufacturing, construction, agriculture or the utilities industry, you should be aware of these chemicals and how you can prevent hearing loss from developing as a result of being around them. The first thing you should know are what symptoms to look out for. Symptoms can include a headache, a feeling of fullness in the ear, dizziness and blurred vision.
Replacing products that contain these chemicals can help, but it can be challenging to decipher which chemicals cause this type of damage. Typically, you can look for the ones that contain the words “neurotoxicant” and “nephrotoxicity.” If you cannot replace these items, proper ventilation can reduce the risk. Using gas and vapor respirators, goggles and gloves can also help.
Chemical exposure and its effects on hearing
The effect these chemicals have on your health depends on exposure frequency and duration. It’s important to know that hearing damage may be temporary or permanent. These workers are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss, but also ototoxicity-induced hearing loss, creating a larger degree of hearing loss. Along with noise exposure, when you’re frequently exposed to these chemicals, the nerve fibers and hair cells in the inner ear can become damaged.
See an ear specialist right away
The quicker you get into an ear specialist when you start noticing problems, the more likely you are to find a treatment plan that will work and help prevent permanent damage. Along with controlling the noise at construction sites, employers should offer hearing protection and provide employees with resources to educate them on hazardous materials including ototoxic chemicals. If you’re experiencing symptoms, don’t wait to get a hearing test. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.