Sometimes it’s easy to recognize risks to your ears: a roaring jet engine or loud machines. When the dangers are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to convince people to take practical solutions (which commonly include using earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic substance? Just because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. How can something that’s organic be equally as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
An Organic Compound You Wouldn’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 known as organic solvents have a strong possibility of harming your ears even with minimal exposure. It’s important to note that, in this case, organic doesn’t mean the kind of label you see on fruit at the grocery store. The truth is, marketers make use of the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to sell us products with the implication that it’s actually good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is designated as organic, it means that specific growing practices are implemented to keep food free of artificial contaminants. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the field of chemistry, the word organic represents any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all varieties of distinctive molecules and, consequently, a wide variety of different useful chemicals. But that doesn’t imply they’re not potentially dangerous. Millions of workers each year handle organic solvents and they’re often exposed to the dangers 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:
- Cleaning products
- Paints and varnishes
- Degreasing elements
- Adhesives and glue
You get it. So, the question quickly becomes, will your hearing be damaged by cleaning or painting?
Organic Solvents And The Dangers Associated With Them
Based on the most recent research out there, the risks related to organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re exposed to them. So when you clean your house you will most likely be fine. The biggest risk is experienced by those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or use organic solvents on a commercial scale. Industrial solvents, most notably, have been well investigated and definitively show that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys with real people. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be affected when the tiny hair cells in the ear are damaged by solvents. The difficulty is that a lot of businesses are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These dangers are known even less by workers. So there are insufficient standardized protocols to safeguard the hearing of those employees. One thing that could really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing screening for all workers who deal with organic compounds on a regular basis. These hearing screenings would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers could respond accordingly.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Regular Hearing examinations and controlling your exposure to these compounds are the most common suggestions. But in order for that recommendation to be successful, you need to be informed of the dangers first. When the dangers are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you should take precautions against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. 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. Fortunately, as researchers sound more alarm bells, employers and employees alike are beginning to make their workplaces a little bit less dangerous for everyone. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a good idea to have your hearing checked by a hearing specialist.