At times the dangers to your hearing are obvious: the roaring jet engine next to your ears or the screeching machines on the factory floor. When the hazards are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to convince people to take practical solutions (which normally include wearing earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic compound? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s healthy for you? How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your ears as loud noise?
An Organic Substance You Don’t Want to Eat
To be clear, we’re not talking about organic things like produce or other food products. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, chemicals known as organic solvents have a good chance of damaging your hearing even with very little exposure. It’s significant to note that, in this situation, organic does not make reference to the kind of label you find on fruit in the supermarket. The truth is, marketers use the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to sell us products with the suggestion it’s actually good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). The word organic, when pertaining to food means that the growers didn’t employ certain chemicals. When we mention organic solvents, the word organic is related to chemistry. In the field of chemistry, the word organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of unique molecules and, consequently, a wide variety of different convenient chemicals. But that doesn’t guarantee they aren’t potentially hazardous. Millions of workers each year handle organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the dangers of hearing loss while doing so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Organic solvents are found in some of the following items:
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning products
- Degreasing chemicals
- Adhesives and glue
You get it. So, here’s the question, will painting (or even cleaning) your bathroom harm your hearing?
Risks Associated With Organic Solvents
The more you’re subjected to these substances, according to current research, the higher the associated hazard. So when you clean your house you will most likely be fine. It’s the industrial workers who are continuously around organic solvents that have the highest risk. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been demonstrated to be associated with subjection to organic compounds. Lab tests that used animals, along with surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be true. Subjection to the solvents can have a negative effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, leading to loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t widely recognized by company owners. These hazards are known even less by workers. So there are a lack of standardized protocols to safeguard the hearing of those workers. All workers who deal with solvents could get hearing screenings regularly and that would be really helpful. These hearing examinations would detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react appropriately.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Routine Hearing assessments and limiting your exposure to these compounds are the most common suggestions. But first, you need to be conscious of the risks before you can heed that advice. It’s simple when the risks are plain to see. No one doubts that loud noises can harm your ears and so precautions to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor are logical and obvious. But when the threat is invisible as is the case for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. The good news is, ongoing research is assisting both employees and employers take a safer path. For now, it’s a good idea to try to work with these products in a well-ventilated area and to always use a mask. It would also be a practical idea to get your ears looked at by a hearing care specialist.