Sometimes it can be easy to discern hazards to your ears: a loud jet engine next to your ears or the bellowing machinery on the factory floor. When the dangers are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to convince people to take pragmatic solutions (which normally include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if there was an organic compound that was just as bad for your ears as excessive noise? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s good for you? How can something that’s organic be equally as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
You May Not Want to Eat This Organic Substance
To clarify, these organic compounds are not something you can pick up at the produce department of your supermarket nor would you want to. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, chemicals called organic solvents have a good possibility of injuring your hearing even with very little exposure. It’s important to note that, in this situation, organic doesn’t make reference to the sort of label you see on fruit in the grocery store. Actually, marketers use the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to sell us products with the suggestion that it’s actually good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is classified as organic, it means that certain growing practices are employed to keep food from having artificial impurities. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is chemistry-related. In the field of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of unique molecules and, consequently, a large number of different useful chemicals. But sometimes they can also be harmful. Millions of workers each year handle organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:
- Degreasing elements
- Cleaning supplies
- Paints and varnishes
- Glues and adhesives
You get the point. So, here’s the question, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room damage your hearing?
Organic Solvents And The Hazards Associated With Them
The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on current research, the higher the associated risks. So when you clean your home you will most likely be okay. It’s the industrial laborers who are constantly around organic solvents that have the highest risk. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be connected to exposure to organic compounds. This has been shown both in laboratory experiments using animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, causing hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. The difficulty is that many companies are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These risks are known even less by workers. So those employees don’t have standardized protocols to safeguard them. One thing that could really help, for example, would be standardized hearing examinations for all workers who use organic solvents on a regular basis. These hearing tests would detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond appropriately.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Most guidelines for protecting your hearing from these specific organic compounds include controlling your exposure coupled with periodic hearing tests. But if you want that recommendation to be effective, you have to be aware of the risks first. When the dangers are obvious, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you should take safeguards to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud noises. But when the danger is not visible as it is for the millions of Us citizens who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Luckily, continuing research is helping both employees and employers take a safer approach. For now, it’s a smart strategy to try to use these products in a well-ventilated area and to always use a mask. Having your hearing evaluated by a hearing care professional is also a smart idea.