Sometimes it’s easy to recognize hazards to your hearing: a loud jet engine beside your ears or the bellowing machinery on the factory floor. easy to convince people to protect their ears when they know they will be around loud sounds. But what if there was an organic compound that was as harmful for your ears as excessive noise? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s healthy for you? How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your ears as loud noise?
You Probably Won’t 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 and you wouldn’t want to. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, there’s a strong possibility that a collection of chemicals known as organic solvents can injure your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. It’s important to note that, in this situation, organic does not mean the type of label you find on fruit in the supermarket. The truth is, marketers use the positive connections 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). The term organic, when pertaining to food indicates that the growers didn’t use certain chemicals. The term organic, when related to solvents, is a term used in chemistry. Within the field of chemistry, the term organic describes any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a high number of molecules and consequently useful chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t potentially dangerous. Millions of workers every year handle organic solvents and they’re often exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Some of the following items have organic solvents:
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning supplies
- Degreasing elements
- Glues and adhesives
You get it. So, the question suddenly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your bathroom harm your hearing?
Organic Solvents And The Risks Associated With Them
The more you’re subjected to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the associated risks. So when you clean your house you will probably be okay. The biggest risk is to individuals with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or make use of organic solvents on an industrial scale. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be associated with subjection to organic substances. This has been demonstrated both in laboratory experiments using animals and in experiential surveys with 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. The problem is that many companies are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These risks are even less recognized by workers. So there are insufficient standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those workers. One thing that could really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who use organic solvents on a consistent basis. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be identified in its beginning phases.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Regular Hearing tests and controlling your exposure to these compounds are the most common recommendations. But if you expect that advice to be practical, you have to be mindful of the risks first. When the risks are obvious, it’s not that hard. Everyone knows that loud noises can injure your hearing and so precautions to safeguard your ears from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor are obvious and logical. But when the threat is invisible as is the case for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Luckily, ongoing research is assisting both employers and employees take a safer path. Some of the best advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a practical plan to have your ears checked out by a hearing specialist.