Sometimes the hazards to your ears are obvious: the roaring jet engine beside your ears or the bellowing equipment on the factory floor. It’s not difficult to convince people to use ear protection when they recognize that they will be around loud noises. But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic substance? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? How can something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
An Organic Substance You Don’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, chemicals called organic solvents have a good chance of injuring your hearing even with very little exposure. It’s significant to note that, in this case, organic does not refer to the sort of label you see on fruit at the supermarket. Actually, marketers make use of the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication that it’s good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is labeled as organic, it means that specific growing methods are used to keep food from having artificial contaminants. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is chemistry-related. Within the discipline of chemistry, the term organic refers to any compounds and chemicals that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can generate all varieties of unique molecules and, therefore, a wide range of different useful chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially harmful. Millions of workers every year handle organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the hazards of hearing loss as they do so.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Organic solvents are found in some of the following products:
- Degreasing elements
- Cleaning supplies
- Adhesives and glue
- Varnishes and paints
You get the point. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by painting or even cleaning?
Dangers Associated With Organic Solvents
The more you’re subjected to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the associated dangers. So when you clean your house you will probably be okay. It’s the industrial laborers who are continuously around organic solvents that have the highest danger. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be connected to subjection to organic compounds. This has been demonstrated both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be affected when the little hair cells of the ear are injured by solvents. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by company owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the risks. So those workers don’t have standardized protocols to safeguard them. One thing that could really help, for example, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who use organic solvents on a consistent basis. These hearing tests would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers could respond accordingly.
You Have to go to Work
Periodic Hearing tests and controlling your exposure to these compounds are the most frequent suggestions. But in order for that recommendation to be effective, you need to be aware of the hazards first. It’s straight forward when the hazards are well known. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your ears and so taking steps to safeguard your ears from the daily sound of the factory floor are logical and obvious. But when the danger is invisible as it is for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Luckily, continuing research is assisting both employees and employers take a safer path. In the meantime, it’s a good plan to try to use these products in a well-ventilated area and to always wear a mask. Getting your hearing evaluated by a hearing care professional is also a practical idea.