Sometimes the dangers to your hearing are obvious: loud machinery or a roaring jet engine. easy to persuade people to protect their ears when they know they will be near loud noises. But what if your hearing could be damaged by an organic substance? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s healthy for you? How can something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Substance
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, there’s a good possibility that a group of chemicals known as organic solvents can injure your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. It’s worthwhile to note that, in this case, organic does not mean the type of label you see on fruit at the supermarket. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make consumers presume a product is good for them. The word organic, when associated with food signifies that the growers didn’t use certain chemicals. When we mention organic solvents, the word organic is related to chemistry. Within the field of chemistry, the word organic describes any chemicals and compounds that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can generate a large number of molecules and therefore worthwhile chemicals. But that doesn’t imply they’re not potentially dangerous. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the risks of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Some of the following items contain organic solvents:
- Degreasing chemicals
- Varnishes and paints
- Cleaning supplies
- Adhesives and glue
You get it. So, the question quickly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room harm your hearing?
Risks Related to Organic Solvents
Based on the most current research out there, the hazards related to organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re subjected to them. This means that you’ll probably be okay while you clean your house. The most potent risk is to those with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or utilize organic solvents on a commercial scale. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well researched and definitively show that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that utilized animals, along with surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be true. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be impacted when the little hair cells of the ear are damaged by solvents. The issue is that a lot of companies are unaware of the ototoxicity of these compounds. These risks are known even less by workers. So those employees don’t have standardized protocols to safeguard them. One thing that could really help, for example, would be standardized hearing examinations for all workers who deal with organic compounds on a consistent basis. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be discovered in its beginning phases.
You Need to go to Work
Most recommendations for safeguarding your ears from these specific organic substances include managing your exposure and also routine hearing tests. But if you expect that recommendation to be practical, you have to be mindful of the hazards first. When the hazards are obvious, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your ears and so taking steps to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. But when the threat is not visible as is the case for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. Luckily, ongoing research is assisting both employers and employees take a safer path. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated area. It would also be a good idea to get your ears looked at by a hearing care professional.