Sometimes it’s easy to identify dangers to your hearing: the roaring jet engine beside your ears or the bellowing machinery on the floor of a factory. When the risks are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to convince people to take pragmatic solutions (which commonly include using earmuffs or earplugs). But what if there was an organic substance that was just as bad for your hearing as too much noise? Just because something is organic doesn’t always mean it’s healthy for you. How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?
You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Substance
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 possibility of harming your hearing even with very little exposure. To be clear, the type of organic label you see on fruit in the supermarket is completely different. In fact, marketers utilize the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication that it’s actually good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is designated as organic, it means that particular growing practices are implemented to keep food from having artificial contaminants. The term organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the discipline of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a high number of molecules and therefore practical chemicals. But that doesn’t guarantee they’re not potentially harmful. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the risks of hearing loss by handling organic solvents.
Where do You Come Across Organic Solvents?
Organic solvents are used in some of the following products:
- Adhesives and glue
- Cleaning supplies
- Degreasing agents
- Paints and varnishes
You get the point. So, the question quickly becomes, will your hearing be harmed by painting or even cleaning?
Organic Solvents And The Risks Related to Them
According to the most recent research available, the dangers related to organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re exposed to them. So when you clean your home you will probably be okay. It’s the industrial laborers who are continuously around organic solvents that have the highest risk. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be associated with exposure to organic substances. This has been demonstrated both in laboratory experiments using animals and in experiential surveys with actual people. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be affected when the little hair cells in the ear are damaged by solvents. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these compounds isn’t well known by business owners. These dangers are even less recognized by workers. So there are a lack of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those workers. All workers who deal with solvents could get hearing tests on a regular basis and that would really help. These hearing tests would detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond appropriately.
You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job
Routine Hearing assessments and controlling your exposure to these solvents are the most common suggestions. But in order for that advice to be successful, you have to be informed of the hazards first. When the hazards are obvious, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you need to take safeguards against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud sounds. But it’s not so straight forward 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 best advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a smart idea to have your hearing looked at by a hearing specialist.