We conclude that workers with tympanic membrane defects (perforated eardrums) should not be excluded from working in atmospheres containing concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (H2S). Several existing requirements and recommendations exclude workers with perforated eardrums from working in or around H2S. Such protective measures stem from the belief that H2S can enter the body through the perforation in sufficient measure to compromise the wearer's respiratory protection. However, based on calculations of anticipated leakage of H2S for a variety of eustachian tube conditions and in the absence of either medical literature or personal reports documenting H2S poisoning due to eardrum perforation, the recommendation for excluding workers with such a condition from working in or around H2S is not supported. The anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the eustachian tube are discussed, including the effects such devices as tympanomaxillary shunts might have on contaminant leakage. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) criteria for respirator tests and sources of respirator leakage are examined and NIOSH recommendations for respiratory protection against H2S are outlined.
©1985 The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine