Sometimes it’s easy to identify risks to your ears: a roaring jet engine or loud machines. It’s not hard to convince people to protect their ears when they know they will be near loud sounds. But what if there was an organic substance that was as bad for your ears as too much noise? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? How could something that’s organic be equally as bad for your ears as loud noise?
An Organic Compound You Don’t Want to Eat
To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can get in the produce department of your grocery store and you wouldn’t want to. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, there’s a strong chance that a collection of chemicals known as organic solvents can harm your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. To be clear, the sort of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is totally different. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make consumers believe a product is good for them. When food is classified as organic, it means that certain growing practices are implemented to keep food from having artificial impurities. The term organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic describes any chemicals and compounds that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of distinctive molecules and, therefore, a wide range of different useful chemicals. But at times they can also be unsafe. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the dangers of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:
- Varnishes and paints
- Glues and adhesives
- Cleaning supplies
- Degreasing agents
You get the idea. So, the question suddenly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room harm your hearing?
Risks Related to Organic Solvents
The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the associated hazard. So when you clean your house you will probably be ok. It’s the industrial workers who are continuously around organic solvents that are at the highest risk. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well studied and definitively show that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in laboratory experiments using animals and in experiential surveys with real people. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be affected when the little hair cells in the ear are damaged by solvents. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well known by business owners. Even fewer workers know about the hazards. So there are a lack of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those employees. All workers who deal with solvents could have hearing examinations on a regular basis and that would really help. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be identified in its beginning stages.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Routine Hearing exams and controlling your exposure to these compounds are the most frequent recommendations. But in order for that recommendation to be practical, you need to be mindful of the dangers first. When the hazards are obvious, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can injure your hearing and so precautions to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor seems logical and obvious. But it’s not so straight forward to persuade employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible hazard. The good news is, ongoing research is assisting both employers and employees take a safer approach. Some of the most practical advice would be to wear a mask and work in a well ventilated spot. Getting your hearing examined by a hearing expert is also a practical idea.