At times the hazards to your ears are obvious: a loud jet engine beside your ears or the screeching machines on the factory floor. When the dangers are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to get people on board with practical solutions (which usually include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if there was an organic substance that was just as harmful for your hearing as too much noise? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? But how is possible that your ears could be damaged by an organic substance?
An Organic Compound You Wouldn’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 called organic solvents have a strong chance of harming your hearing even with very little exposure. To be certain, the type of organic label you see on fruit in the supermarket is totally different. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make consumers believe a product isn’t harmful for them. When food is designated as organic, it means that certain growing methods are employed to keep food from having artificial contaminants. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a term used in chemistry. Within the field of chemistry, the word organic represents any chemicals and compounds that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can generate all varieties of different molecules and, consequently, a wide range of different useful chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially hazardous. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the hazards of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?
Some of the following items contain organic solvents:
- Cleaning supplies
- Paints and varnishes
- Degreasing chemicals
- Adhesives and glue
You get the point. So, here’s the question, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room damage your hearing?
Organic Solvents And The Dangers Associated With Them
The more you’re subjected to these substances, according to current research, the higher the corresponding dangers. This means that you’ll most likely be okay while you clean your bathroom. The biggest risk is to those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or utilize organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, most notably, have been well studied and definitively demonstrate that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that utilized animals, as well as surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be true. Exposure to the solvents can have a detrimental impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, causing hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. The problem is that many businesses are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. An even smaller number of workers know about the dangers. So there are insufficient standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those employees. All workers who deal with solvents could have hearing tests on a regular basis and that would really help. These hearing screenings would be able to detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react appropriately.
You Need to Work
Most recommendations for protecting your ears from these particular organic compounds include controlling your exposure coupled with periodic hearing tests. But first, you need to be mindful of the dangers before you can follow that advice. It’s straight forward when the dangers are plain to see. No one doubts that loud noises can harm your ears and so precautions to protect your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor seems logical and obvious. But when the threat is invisible as is the case for the millions of people who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Thankfully, as researchers sound more alarms, employers and employees alike are moving to make their work environments a little bit less dangerous for everyone. For the time being, it’s a smart idea to only work with these products in a well-ventilated place and to wear masks. Having your hearing evaluated by a hearing expert is also a good idea.