At times the dangers to your hearing are obvious: a roaring jet engine or loud machinery. When the hazards are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to get people on board with practical solutions (which commonly include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your hearing could be damaged by an organic compound? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s good for you? But how is possible that your ears could be damaged by an organic substance?
You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Substance
To clarify, these organic compounds are not something you can pick up in the produce department of your grocery store nor would you want to. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, there’s a strong chance that a group of chemicals called organic solvents can harm your hearing even if exposure is brief and minimal. To be certain, the kind of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is completely different. The truth is, marketers use the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication that it’s good for you (or at least not bad for you). The term organic, when associated with food signifies that the growers didn’t employ certain chemicals. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is chemistry-related. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic refers to any compounds and chemicals that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can generate all kinds of distinctive molecules and, consequently, a large number of different convenient chemicals. But that doesn’t imply they aren’t potentially dangerous. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the hazards of hearing loss by handling organic solvents.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?
Some of the following items have organic solvents:
- Paints and varnishes
- Degreasing chemicals
- Glues and adhesives
- Cleaning products
You get the point. So, the question suddenly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your living room harm your hearing?
Risks Associated With Organic Solvents
The more you’re exposed to these substances, according to current research, the higher the corresponding risks. This means that you’ll probably be fine while you clean your bathroom. The most potent risk is to individuals with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or make use of organic solvents on an industrial scale. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been demonstrated to be linked to exposure to organic substances. This has been shown both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving 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. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t well known by business owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the dangers. So those employees don’t have standardized protocols to safeguard them. One thing that could really help, for example, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who deal with organic compounds on a consistent basis. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond accordingly.
You Have to Work
Regular Hearing exams and limiting your exposure to these compounds are the most common recommendations. But in order for that recommendation to be effective, you have to be mindful of the hazards first. When the risks are obvious, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you need to take safeguards 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 Us citizens who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. Thankfully, as specialists sound more alarms, employees and employers are beginning to make their work environments a little bit less dangerous for everyone. For the time being, it’s a good idea to only use these products in a well-ventilated area and to wear masks. It would also be a practical plan to have your hearing checked by a hearing specialist.