Sometimes it’s easy to recognize hazards to your hearing: loud machinery or a roaring jet engine. When the hazards are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to convince people to take practical solutions (which normally include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic substance? Just because something is organic doesn’t always mean it’s good for you. But how is possible that your ears could be harmed by an organic substance?
You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Substance
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 called organic solvents have a strong possibility of damaging your hearing even with very little exposure. To be clear, the type of organic label you find on fruit in the supermarket is totally different. The truth is, marketers utilize the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the suggestion that it’s actually good for you (or at least not bad for you). When food is labeled as organic, it means that certain growing methods are used to keep food free of artificial contaminants. The term organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the discipline of chemistry, the word organic refers to any chemicals and compounds that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all varieties of different molecules and, consequently, a wide range of different useful chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially harmful. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the dangers of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following products:
- Degreasing elements
- Glues and adhesives
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning products
You get the idea. So, this is the question, will your hearing be damaged by cleaning or painting?
Organic Solvents And The Hazards Associated With Them
According to the most current research out there, the hazards associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re subjected to them. So when you clean your home you will probably be ok. It’s the industrial laborers who are regularly around organic solvents that have the highest danger. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well studied and definitively reveal that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in lab experiments using animals and in experiential surveys involving actual people. Subjection to the solvents can have a detrimental effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, leading to loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t widely recognized by company owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the risks. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to protect them. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing tests for all workers who handle organic compounds on a consistent basis. These hearing screenings would be able to detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond appropriately.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Most suggestions for protecting your hearing from these specific organic substances include managing your exposure coupled with routine hearing tests. But in order for that recommendation to be successful, you have to be aware of the dangers first. When the risks are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your ears and so taking steps to protect your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor are obvious and logical. But it’s not so easy to convince employers to take precautions when there is an invisible hazard. Fortunately, as specialists sound more alarm bells, employers and employees alike are beginning to make their work environments a little bit less dangerous for everyone. In the meantime, it’s a smart plan to try to use these products in a well-ventilated place and to always use a mask. Getting your hearing examined by a hearing expert is also a practical idea.