Ototoxic Chemicals to Look Out for In Your Home

Ototoxic Chemicals to Look Out for In Your Home

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.

Just about everyone has some awareness around the dangers of loud noise and its impact on your hearing. However, excessive noise is not the only cause of lifelong hearing damage. Changes to the ear as we age, chronic health conditions and ear infection and impact to our head can contribute to hearing loss. However, a lot of people are unaware of a source of hearing damage which is common in most people’s homes across the United States. Ototoxic chemicals are chemicals which can cause damage to the tiny cells that transmit sound from our ears to our brain and there are more in our home than most of us would feel comfortable with! 

Understanding how Hearing Loss and Ototoxic Chemicals Work

We hear with our ears; however, their job is not completed until sound reaches our brain. Our ears achieve this through an amazing process of amplifying audio vibrations through the eardrum and tiny bones called ossicles within the middle ear, before reaching the cochlea of the inner ear. This snail shaped tiny organ is filled with fluid and tiny hairlike cells called stereocilia. As vibrations enter the cochlea, the fluid vibrates stimulating the stereocilia which in turn convert the vibrations into electrical impulses which can be interpreted by the brain. 

One of the most common causes of hearing loss is considered sensorineural which occurs when the stereocilia become damaged, inhibiting some sounds from reaching the brain. These cells are very fragile and can be damaged by inhibited delivery of blood to keep them healthy. Chemicals classified as ototoxic, all damage the stereocilia, often by constricting or limiting the amount of oxygenated blood from reaching the brain.

Understanding Ototoxic Chemicals 

Ototoxic chemicals are more common in our daily lives than many would like to admit. They are broadly categorized into five groups including: 

  • pharmaceuticals, 
  • solvents, 
  • asphyxiants, 
  • nitriles 
  • metals and compounds. 

Many of these chemicals are common in working environments where OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) mandates that they must be clearly labeled and handled only when proper ventilation is present. However, it may surprise you to find out how many chemicals which could permanently damage your hearing exist in your own medicine cabinet, under the sink or even your dresser drawer.

Ototoxic Chemical Common in Most Homes

Did you treat an infestation of pests this year or decide to work on a painting or varnishing project? Did you clean the rug or attempt to move spots recently? What about having a headache and reaching into your medicine cabinet for relief? Beware! Some of these everyday chemicals can damage your hearing in the long run. This includes:

  • Benzene – all too common in plastics, paints, cleaning agents, and cigarette smoke
  • Carbon Disulfide – common in pesticides
  • Carbon Monoxide – this environmental toxin is common in your cigarettes you smoke daily, in gas powered tools, automobile exhaust and welding.
  • Styrene –found commonly in home insulation as well as many plastics.
  • Trichloroethylene – common in paints, waxes, pesticides, rug cleaners, spot removers
  • Toluene – found in paints, lacquers, adhesives, and spray paint
  • Xylene – look out for them in paints, varnishes, thinners

Ototoxic Medications

If you are gasping at the potential risk, you’ve already put your hearing in just this week, some medications are also known to be ototoxic, causing hearing loss. This list covers over 200 medications, some   prescription such as chemo drugs, diuretics, and some antibiotics. Meanwhile some household names of medicine such as over the counter painkillers, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can increase the risk of hearing loss significantly over the years if used twice a week or more.

Protecting Your Hearing for Ototoxic Chemicals

Many of the greatest risks to your ears come from attempting to address an issue yourself at home such as cleaning your own carpets or building and staining a piece of furniture. You can still be a handy DIY person, but it is important to do your research ahead of time and get ready to protect yourself appropriately. Here are some tips to protect your hearing:

  • Before you use a chemical, read the label! This should always be the case, but especially for solvents, paints, compounds, and medications.
  • Protective gear is essential at work or at home. Do your research and get the right protective gear for the job from clothing to masks. It will be worth the extra effort in the long run!
  • Look for a non-ototoxic version if possible. They exist though they may take more elbow grease and a learning curve at first.

Monitor your Hearing

Do you have hearing loss? You may not know it. It’s always a good idea to schedule annual hearing exams to know for sure. Schedule your next one with us today!