Sometimes it’s easy to discern dangers to your hearing: a roaring jet engine or loud machinery. When the dangers are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to get people on board with pragmatic solutions (which normally include wearing earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic substance? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s healthy for you? How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
An Organic Compound You Wouldn’t Want to Eat
To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can get in 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, chemicals known as organic solvents have a strong chance of damaging your hearing even with very little exposure. To be clear, the type of organic label you see on fruit in the supermarket is completely different. In reality, the word “organic” is utilized by marketers to make people presume a product isn’t harmful for them. When food is classified as organic, it means that specific growing practices are used to keep food free of artificial contaminants. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is related to chemistry. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic describes any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all varieties of unique molecules and, consequently, a wide range of different useful chemicals. But at times they can also be unsafe. 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 found in some of the following items:
- Varnishes and paints
- Cleaning products
- Degreasing elements
- Adhesives and glue
You get the idea. So, the question suddenly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room harm your hearing?
Dangers Associated With Organic Solvents
The more you’re subjected to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the corresponding risks. So when you clean your home you will most likely be ok. The most potent risk is experienced by those with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or utilize organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well studied and definitively show that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that utilized animals, along with surveys of people, have both revealed this to be true. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be impacted when the little hair cells of the ear are damaged by solvents. The problem is that many businesses are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. Even fewer workers know about the hazards. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to protect them. All workers who deal with solvents could get hearing tests regularly and that would really help. These hearing tests would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Routine Hearing tests and controlling your exposure to these compounds are the most common recommendations. But in order for that recommendation to be practical, you need to be aware of the risks first. It’s simple when the hazards are plain to see. It’s obvious that you have to take precautions to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. But it’s not so straight forward to convince employers to take precautions when there is an invisible hazard. Fortunately, as specialists sound more alarms, employers and employees alike are moving to make their workplaces a little bit safer for everyone. Some of the most practical advice would be to wear a mask and work in a well ventilated area. It would also be a smart idea to have your hearing checked out by a hearing specialist.