Sometimes it’s easy to identify hazards to your ears: the roaring jet engine beside your ears or the screeching equipment on the factory floor. It’s not hard to convince people to use ear protection when they know they will be around loud noises. But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic substance? Simply because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you. How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
An Organic Substance You Don’t Want to Eat
To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can pick up at the produce department of your grocery store and you wouldn’t 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 harming your ears even with very little exposure. To be certain, the kind of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is completely different. Actually, marketers utilize the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication it’s good for you (or at least not bad for you). When food is designated as organic, it means that particular growing practices are implemented to keep food free of artificial impurities. The term organic, when associated with solvents, is a term used in chemistry. In the field of chemistry, the word organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of distinctive molecules and, therefore, a large number of different useful chemicals. But sometimes they can also be dangerous. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the risks of hearing loss by handling organic solvents.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Organic solvents are found in some of the following items:
- Adhesives and glue
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning products
- Degreasing agents
You get the idea. So, the question suddenly becomes, will your hearing be damaged by cleaning or painting?
Organic Solvents And The Dangers Related to Them
The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the corresponding hazard. This means that you’ll probably be okay while you clean your house. The most potent risk is experienced by individuals 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 investigated and definitively demonstrate that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that used animals, in addition to surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be true. Exposure to the solvents can have a detrimental impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, causing loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by business owners. These dangers are even less recognized by workers. So there are an absence of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those employees. One thing that may really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing screening for all workers who use organic compounds on a consistent basis. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers could react accordingly.
You Have to Work
Regular Hearing exams and controlling your exposure to these solvents are the most frequent recommendations. But if you expect that advice to be practical, you have to be aware of the dangers first. When the risks are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you have to take precautions to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. But when the threat is invisible as it is for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. Luckily, continuing research is helping both employers and employees take a safer path. In the meantime, it’s a smart plan to only work with these products in a well-ventilated place and to wear masks. Having your hearing checked by a hearing expert is also a good idea.