Sometimes it can be easy to recognize dangers to your ears: a roaring jet engine or loud machines. When the risks are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to convince people to take practical solutions (which normally include using earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your hearing could be harmed by an organic compound? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? How can something that’s organic be equally as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Compound
To clarify, these organic compounds are not something you can pick up at the produce section 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 chance that a collection of chemicals called organic solvents can harm your hearing even if exposure is brief and minimal. It’s significant to note that, in this case, organic does not make reference to the kind of label you find on fruit in the supermarket. Actually, marketers utilize the positive associations 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). When food is classified as organic, it means that particular growing methods are implemented to keep food from having artificial pollutants. When we mention organic solvents, the word organic is chemistry-related. Within the field of chemistry, the term organic describes any chemicals and compounds that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a significant number of molecules and consequently practical chemicals. But that doesn’t imply they’re not potentially harmful. Millions of workers each year work with organic solvents and they’re often exposed to the hazards of hearing loss as they do so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Organic solvents are found in some of the following products:
- Cleaning products
- Paints and varnishes
- Degreasing chemicals
- Adhesives and glue
You get the idea. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by cleaning or painting?
Dangers Related to Organic Solvents
Based on the most recent research available, the risks associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re exposed to them. This means that you’ll most likely be fine while you clean your kitchen. The most potent risk is to individuals with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or use organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well investigated and definitively demonstrate that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in laboratory experiments involving 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, leading to hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. The issue is that a lot of companies are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These dangers are even less recognized by workers. So those employees don’t have consistent protocols to protect them. All workers who deal with solvents could get hearing examinations on a regular basis and that would be really helpful. These workers would be able to get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be discovered in its beginning phases.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Regular Hearing examinations and controlling your exposure to these compounds are the most common recommendations. But first, you need to be aware of the dangers before you can follow that advice. When the dangers are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your ears and so taking steps to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor seems logical and obvious. But it’s not so easy to convince employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible hazard. The good news is, ongoing research is helping both employees and employers take a safer approach. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a good idea to have your hearing checked out by a hearing specialist.