Sometimes it’s easy to identify risks to your ears: a loud jet engine next to your ears or the screeching machines on the factory floor. It’s not difficult to persuade people to use ear protection when they know they will be near loud sounds. But what if there was an organic substance that was just as harmful for your hearing as too much noise? Simply because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. But how is possible that your hearing could be damaged by an organic substance?
An Organic Substance You Don’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 good possibility of injuring your ears even with minimal exposure. It’s significant to note that, in this situation, organic doesn’t make reference to the kind of label you find on fruit in the grocery store. As a matter of fact, the word “organic” is utilized by marketers to make people presume a product isn’t harmful for them. The word organic, when pertaining to food indicates that the growers didn’t use certain chemicals. When we mention organic solvents, the term organic is chemistry-related. Within the discipline of chemistry, the term organic refers to any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a significant number of molecules and therefore useful chemicals. But at times they can also be harmful. Millions of workers each year work with organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the risks of hearing loss while doing so.
Where do You Come Across Organic Solvents?
Some of the following items contain organic solvents:
- Degreasing agents
- Paints and varnishes
- Glues and adhesives
- Cleaning products
You get the idea. So, here’s the question, will your hearing be damaged by cleaning or painting?
Hazard Associated With Organic Solvents
Based on the most recent research available, the hazards associated with organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re subjected to them. So when you clean your home you will probably be fine. It’s the industrial workers who are regularly exposed to organic solvents that have the highest risk. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well researched and definitively show that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving actual people. Exposure to the solvents can have a detrimental effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, resulting in loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t widely recognized by company owners. These risks are even less recognized by workers. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. All workers who deal with solvents could have hearing tests on a regular basis and that would be really helpful. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers could respond accordingly.
You Need to Work
Periodic Hearing exams and limiting your exposure to these solvents are the most frequent recommendations. But if you expect that recommendation to be practical, you need to be aware of the hazards first. When the risks are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can injure your hearing and so precautions to protect your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. But it isn’t so straight forward to convince employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. The good news is, ongoing research is assisting both employees and employers take a safer approach. For now, it’s a smart idea to only work with these products in a well-ventilated area and to always wear a mask. Getting your ears tested by a hearing care specialist is also a smart idea.