Sometimes the dangers to your ears are obvious: loud machinery or a roaring jet engine. When the risks are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to convince people to take pragmatic solutions (which normally include wearing earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic compound? Just because something is organic doesn’t always mean it’s good for you. But how is possible that your hearing could be harmed by an organic substance?
An Organic Substance 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 good chance that a group of chemicals known as organic solvents can damage your hearing even if exposure is minimal and limited. It’s worthwhile to note that, in this case, organic does not mean the type of label you find on fruit in the grocery store. The truth is, marketers make use of the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication it’s actually good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is designated as organic, it means that particular growing methods are used to keep food free of artificial pollutants. When we mention organic solvents, the term organic is chemistry-related. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic describes any chemicals and compounds that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a high number of molecules and therefore useful chemicals. But at times they can also be hazardous. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the risks of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:
- Varnishes and paints
- Degreasing chemicals
- Cleaning products
- Adhesives and glue
You get the idea. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by cleaning or painting?
Hazard Related to Organic Solvents
The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on current research, the higher the associated hazard. So when you clean your house you will most likely be okay. It’s the industrial laborers who are constantly around organic solvents that are at the highest risk. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be connected to exposure to organic substances. Lab tests that utilized animals, in addition to surveys of people, have both revealed this to be the case. Subjection to the solvents can have a negative effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, causing hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well known by company owners. These dangers are known even less by workers. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing examinations for all workers who deal with organic solvents on a consistent basis. These hearing examinations would detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond accordingly.
You Need to go to Work
Most suggestions for safeguarding your hearing from these specific organic substances include managing your exposure as well as regular hearing screenings. But in order for that recommendation to be effective, you need to be aware of the hazards first. When the risks are obvious, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you need to take precautions to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. But when the threat is invisible as it is for the millions of Us citizens who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. Luckily, continuing research is helping both employers and employees take a safer path. For now, it’s a smart idea to try to use these products in a well-ventilated place and to always wear a mask. Getting your ears examined by a hearing care specialist is also a good idea.