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Did you know that exposure to chemicals can cause hearing loss?

AdobeStock_135408512.jpegDo you work in the Minnesota manufacturing industry? You might not even be aware that the presence of some chemicals manufacturers use can adversely affect your hearing. Working with all types of machinery in plants that manufacture textiles and apparel, paint and associated products, chemicals, furniture, plastics, and other products can make you vulnerable to toxic chemical exposure.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says research indicates that exposure to ototoxicant-containing chemicals can harm the hearing and balance of exposed workers, and simultaneous noise exposure can exacerbate the danger. OSHA aims to increase awareness of this relatively unknown workplace hazard.

How do ototoxicants harm your hearing?

Research shows that these harmful chemical components cause damage to the auditory nuclei or nerves in the central nervous system, which is the pathway to the brain. For this reason, the brain does not receive clear impulses about the sounds around you, resulting in impaired hearing and also the loss of clarity in the following ways:

  • Noise detection: As your hearing deteriorates, sounds will have to be louder for you to detect them.
  • Speech discrimination dysfunction: You will become unable to distinguish voices from background noises.
  • Frequency resolution: It can become impossible to differentiate similar sounds. This not only applies to different noises with similar frequencies but also the sounds representing different letters in speech.
  • Sound distortion: Even loud noises will sound distorted, further affecting your ability to identify different sounds.
  • Spatial resolution: This is the inability to determine the origin or location of a noise or sound.
  • Temporal resolution: The lapses of time between different sounds may become difficult to detect.

The challenges of prevention

Impaired hearing can be life-threatening if you work in a noisy environment because you may not hear instructions correctly or at all and you might be unaware of environmental sounds that should serve as warning signals. The fact that different ototoxicants pose hazards at different levels makes prevention challenging. Furthermore, safety data sheets do not identify most of these substances as ototoxicants, leaving many employers unaware of the risks to which they expose their employees.

Sources of ototoxicants

Ototoxicants can enter your body through ingestion, inhalation and absorption by your skin. Certain pharmaceuticals, solvents and pesticides can cause ototoxicity. Some of them, including carbon monoxide, p-xylene, mercury compounds and toluene, are well known. Lesser-known sources include pharmaceuticals such as antineoplastic agents and certain loop diuretics.

Workers' compensation

Hearing loss is an occupational injury that can develop over time, and you may not even be aware of it until it becomes a severe disability. Although it is a recognized work-related condition, proving that your work environment caused it might be challenging -- especially if only ototoxicants and not noise harmed your hearing.

This is where the skills of an experienced Minnesota workers' compensation attorney can come into play. Your attorney will know how to gather the necessary documented proof of your condition and will work to obtain the maximum benefits to which you are entitled.

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