At times the hazards to your hearing are obvious: the roaring jet engine beside your ears or the screeching machinery on the factory floor. easy to convince people to use ear protection when they know they will be around loud noises. But what if there was an organic compound that was just as bad for your ears as excessive noise? Simply because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you. How could something that’s organic be equally as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
An Organic Substance 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, there’s a good possibility that a collection of chemicals called organic solvents can injure your hearing even if exposure is brief and minimal. To be clear, the type of organic label you find on fruit in the grocery store is entirely different. In fact, marketers utilize the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication it’s good for you (or at least not bad for you). When food is classified as organic, it means that specific growing methods are employed to keep food free of artificial pollutants. The term organic, when associated with solvents, is a term used in chemistry. Within the field of chemistry, the term organic refers to any chemicals and compounds that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can create a significant number of molecules and consequently practical chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially dangerous. Millions of workers every year work with organic solvents and they’re often exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?
Some of the following products have organic solvents:
- Degreasing agents
- Varnishes and paints
- Cleaning products
- Adhesives and glue
You get it. So, here’s the question, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room damage your hearing?
Hazard Related to Organic Solvents
The more you’re exposed to these substances, according to current research, the higher the corresponding hazard. This means that you’ll probably be fine while you clean your bathroom. The most potent risk is to those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or utilize organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well researched and definitively show that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that used animals, along with surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be the case. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be impacted when the little hair cells in the ear are damaged by solvents. The issue is that a lot of companies are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the hazards. So there are insufficient standardized protocols to safeguard the hearing of those employees. One thing that could really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing screening for all workers who handle organic compounds on a consistent basis. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers could react appropriately.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Most suggestions for safeguarding your hearing from these specific organic substances include regulating your exposure along with routine hearing examinations. But in order for that advice to be successful, you need to be mindful of the dangers first. It’s not a problem when the hazards are well known. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your ears and so taking steps to protect your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. But it’s not so easy to convince employers to take precautions when there is an invisible threat. Thankfully, as specialists sound more alarms, employees and employers are moving to make their places of work a little bit safer for everyone. In the meantime, it’s a good plan to only use these products in a well-ventilated area and to always use a mask. It would also be a smart idea to have your hearing checked out by a hearing care specialist.