Sometimes it can be easy to identify hazards to your hearing: a roaring jet engine or loud machinery. When the hazards are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to convince people to take pragmatic solutions (which commonly include wearing earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your hearing could be damaged by an organic compound? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? How could something that’s organic be equally as bad for your ears as loud noise?
An Organic Compound 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 chance of damaging your ears even with minimal exposure. To be clear, the type of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is completely different. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make people presume a product isn’t harmful for them. The term organic, when associated with food indicates that the growers didn’t utilize certain chemicals. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the field of chemistry, the term organic describes any compounds and chemicals that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can create a large number of molecules and consequently useful chemicals. But at times they can also be hazardous. Millions of workers every year handle organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the hazards of hearing loss while doing so.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following products:
- Cleaning products
- Degreasing chemicals
- Paints and varnishes
- Glues and adhesives
You get the idea. So, the question suddenly becomes, will your hearing be harmed by cleaning or painting?
Hazard Related to Organic Solvents
According to the most current research out there, the risks associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re subjected to them. So when you clean your house you will most likely be fine. It’s the industrial workers who are regularly around organic solvents that have the highest risk. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been demonstrated to be linked to subjection to organic substances. This has been shown both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys with actual people. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be impacted when the tiny hair cells in the ear are damaged by solvents. The difficulty is that a lot of companies are unaware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These dangers are even less recognized by workers. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who use organic compounds on a regular basis. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond accordingly.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Regular Hearing tests and limiting your exposure to these solvents are the most frequent suggestions. But in order for that recommendation to be effective, you need to be informed of the dangers first. It’s easy when the risks are well known. Everyone recognizes that loud noises can damage your hearing and so taking steps to safeguard your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. But it’s not so straight forward to convince employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. Fortunately, as researchers sound more alarm bells, employees and employers are starting to make their workplaces a little bit safer for everyone. In the meantime, it’s a smart idea to try to use these products in a well-ventilated place and to wear masks. It would also be a practical plan to have your ears checked by a hearing specialist.