Sometimes it can be easy to recognize risks to your hearing: the roaring jet engine beside your ears or the bellowing equipment on the factory floor. When the risks are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to get people on board with pragmatic solutions (which normally include using earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic compound? Simply because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you. How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your ears as loud noise?
An Organic Substance You Wouldn’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 called organic solvents have a good possibility of injuring your ears even with very little exposure. To be clear, the sort of organic label you find on fruit in the supermarket is completely different. In fact, marketers use the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the suggestion that it’s good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is classified as organic, it means that specific growing methods are employed to keep food from having artificial contaminants. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is chemistry-related. Within the discipline of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any chemicals and compounds that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all kinds of distinctive molecules and, therefore, a wide variety of different useful chemicals. But at times they can also be dangerous. Millions of workers each year work with organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Where do You Find Organic Solvents?
Some of the following products have organic solvents:
- Degreasing agents
- Varnishes and paints
- Glues and adhesives
- Cleaning supplies
You get the idea. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by painting or even cleaning?
Organic Solvents And The Hazards Related to Them
According to the most recent research out there, the hazards associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re subjected to them. This means that you’ll probably be okay while you clean your bathroom. It’s the industrial laborers who are regularly around organic solvents that have the highest danger. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well investigated and definitively demonstrate that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys with actual people. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, resulting in loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well known by company owners. These risks are even less recognized by workers. So those employees don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. One thing that may really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing tests for all workers who handle organic solvents on a consistent basis. These workers would be able to get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be identified in its beginning stages.
You Need to Work
Most suggestions for safeguarding your ears from these particular organic substances include controlling your exposure and also periodic hearing screenings. But first, you need to be mindful of the dangers before you can follow that advice. When the risks are obvious, it’s not that hard. Everyone recognizes that loud noises can harm your ears and so precautions to safeguard your ears from the daily sound of the factory floor are logical and obvious. But when the threat is invisible as is the case for the millions of people who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Luckily, continuing research is helping both employers and employees take a safer path. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a smart idea to have your ears examined by a hearing care professional.