Sometimes it can be easy to discern hazards to your hearing: a loud jet engine next to your ears or the screeching equipment on the factory floor. It’s not difficult to convince people to protect their ears when they know they will be near loud noises. But what if there was an organic substance that was as harmful for your ears as too much noise? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s healthy for you? But how is possible that your ears could be damaged by an organic substance?
An Organic Substance You Don’t Want to Eat
To clarify, these organic compounds are not something you can get at the produce section of your grocery store nor would you 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. It’s important to note that, in this situation, organic does not make reference to the kind of label you see on fruit at the supermarket. Actually, marketers utilize the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to sell us products with the implication it’s actually good for you (or at least not bad for you). The term organic, when pertaining to food means that the growers didn’t employ particular chemicals. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the discipline of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can generate a significant number of molecules and therefore worthwhile chemicals. But at times they can also be hazardous. Millions of workers each year handle organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the dangers of hearing loss while doing so.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Some of the following products contain organic solvents:
- Adhesives and glue
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning supplies
- Degreasing elements
You get the point. So, the question quickly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room damage your hearing?
Risks Related to Organic Solvents
The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on current research, the higher the corresponding hazard. So when you clean your home you will probably be fine. The most potent risk is experienced by individuals with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or utilize organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well researched and definitively reveal that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, leading to loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by business owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the dangers. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to protect them. All workers who handle solvents could have hearing tests regularly and that would really help. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.
You Have to go to Work
Most suggestions for protecting your ears from these particular organic compounds include regulating your exposure coupled with regular hearing examinations. But first, you need to be aware of the dangers before you can heed that advice. It’s easy when the dangers are well known. Everyone recognizes that loud noises can harm your hearing and so precautions to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor are 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, continuing research is assisting both employers and employees take a safer approach. Some of the best advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated area. Getting your ears evaluated by a hearing care specialist is also a good idea.