Sometimes the dangers to your hearing are clear: the roaring jet engine next to your ears or the bellowing machines on the factory floor. When the hazards are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to convince people to take pragmatic solutions (which usually include using earmuffs or earplugs). But what if there was an organic compound that was just as harmful for your hearing as excessive noise? Just because something is organic doesn’t always 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 in the produce section 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 possibility that a group of chemicals known as organic solvents can injure your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. To be certain, the sort of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is completely different. As a matter of fact, the word “organic” is used by marketers to make people believe a product isn’t harmful for them. When food is labeled as organic, it means that specific growing practices are used to keep food free of artificial pollutants. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. In the field of chemistry, the term organic refers to any chemicals and compounds that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of unique molecules and, consequently, a wide range of different convenient chemicals. But sometimes they can also be dangerous. Millions of workers every year handle organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:
- Paints and varnishes
- Degreasing elements
- Glues and adhesives
- Cleaning products
You get the idea. So, this is the question, will your hearing be damaged by painting or even cleaning?
Risks Related to Organic Solvents
The more you’re exposed to these substances, according to current research, the higher the corresponding risks. This means that you’ll most likely be okay while you clean your bathroom. The most potent risk is to people with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or use organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, most notably, have been well studied and definitively reveal that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that utilized animals, as well as surveys of people, have both revealed this to be true. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, leading to hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t well known by company owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the dangers. So there are an absence of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those employees. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing screening for all workers who handle organic solvents on a regular basis. These hearing examinations would detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers could react appropriately.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Most guidelines for protecting your hearing from these particular organic compounds include controlling your exposure as well as periodic hearing tests. But if you want that recommendation to be successful, you need to be informed of the hazards first. It’s straight forward when the hazards are well known. It’s obvious that you have to take precautions against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. But it’s not so easy to persuade employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. The good news is, continuing research is helping both employees and employers take a safer path. For now, it’s a good idea to only use these products in a well-ventilated area and to wear masks. It would also be a smart plan to get your ears checked by a hearing care specialist.