Occupational Health Hazards Of Ototoxins

What Are Ototoxins? 

Exposure to certain chemicals in the workplace and medications can cause hearing loss or exacerbate the effects of noise. These chemicals and medications are considered ototoxic (oto = ear, toxic = poisonous). There are over 200 known ototoxic medications on the market today. These include medicines used to treat serious infections, cancer, and heart disease. Ototoxic chemicals in the workplace that have ototoxic properties include benzene, carbon monoxide, lead, mercury, carbon disulphide, styrene and toluene.  Some chemicals like organic solvents have an additive or synergistic effect with combined with noise.  

Why Are Ototoxins Harmful?

Your hearing and balance are affected by ototoxins. Hearing and balance problems caused by these drugs can sometimes be reversed when the drug therapy or exposure is discontinued. Sometimes, however, the damage is permanent. 

The benefits of a medication may outweigh the side effects and requires a discussion with your doctor.  

How Do Ototoxins Harm My Body? 

Ototoxins can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed into the skin. Ototoxins enter the blood stream and are circulated to the ear where they damage the sensory cells of the inner ear used in hearing and balance. Noise elevates the blood flow in the inner eye which in turn adds as a vehicle for chemicals to enter into the inner ear.  

The first signs of ototoxicity include ringing in the ears, balance problems and hearing loss.  

The effects of ototoxins can affect your quality of life. Not being able to hear conversations or feeling a little dizzy may cause you to stop participating in usual activities. 

Who Needs To Be Concerned About Ototoxins in the Workplace?

Certain trades are more susceptible to exposure than others. Activities where noise and ototoxic chemicals combine increase risk for hearing damage. High risk workplaces include:

  • Laboratories
  • Painting
  • Printing
  • Boat Building
  • Construction
  • Metal Manufacturing
  • Petroleum Production
  • Aircraft Service and Maintenance
  • Pesticide Spraying
  • Firefighting

How to Mitigate Occupational Exposure to Ototoxins?  

If you work in any of the industries listed above, it is important to familiarize yourself with the safety data sheets and carefully read chemical labels to mitigate exposure.  

If you are a business owner looking to elevate the occupational health standards of your company, contact us today to learn how we can help. 


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