Sometimes it can be easy to discern risks to your hearing: the roaring jet engine next to your ears or the bellowing machines on the factory floor. It’s not difficult to persuade people to protect their ears when they know they will be around loud sounds. But what if your hearing could be harmed by an organic substance? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s healthy for you? How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Compound
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 good chance of damaging your ears even with minimal exposure. It’s worthwhile to note that, in this case, organic does not refer to the type of label you find on fruit at the grocery store. In reality, the word “organic” is used by marketers to make people presume a product is good for them. The term organic, when related to food means that the growers didn’t utilize particular chemicals. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is related to chemistry. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic refers to any compounds and chemicals that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all kinds of different molecules and, therefore, a large number of different convenient chemicals. But at times they can also be hazardous. Millions of workers every year work with organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Some of the following items contain organic solvents:
- Varnishes and paints
- Cleaning products
- Glues and adhesives
- Degreasing elements
You get the point. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by painting or even cleaning?
Hazard Related to Organic Solvents
Based on the most current research out there, the hazards related to organic solvents generally increase the more you’re exposed to them. This means that you’ll probably be fine while you clean your bathroom. It’s the industrial laborers who are constantly exposed to organic solvents that are at the highest risk. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well investigated and definitively show that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, resulting in loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t well recognized by company owners. An even smaller number of workers know about the risks. So there are an absence of standardized protocols to safeguard the hearing of those workers. One thing that could really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who handle organic solvents on a regular basis. These hearing screenings would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond accordingly.
You Need to Work
Periodic Hearing exams and controlling your exposure to these solvents are the most common recommendations. But in order for that recommendation to be practical, you need to be aware of the risks first. It’s simple when the hazards are well known. Everyone knows that loud noises can harm your ears and so taking steps to safeguard your ears from the daily sound of the factory floor are obvious and logical. But it’s not so easy to convince employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. Thankfully, as researchers sound more alarms, employers and employees alike are moving to make their workplaces a little bit less dangerous for everyone. For now, it’s a smart idea to try to use these products in a well-ventilated area and to wear masks. It would also be a good idea to get your ears examined by a hearing specialist.