Sometimes the hazards to your ears are obvious: loud machines or a roaring jet engine. When the dangers are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to convince people to take practical solutions (which normally include using earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your hearing could be harmed by an organic substance? Simply because something is organic doesn’t always mean it’s good for you. How can something that’s organic be equally as bad for your ears as loud noise?
An Organic Compound You Wouldn’t Want to Eat
To clarify, these organic substances 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, chemicals known as organic solvents have a strong possibility of harming your ears even with minimal exposure. It’s important to note that, in this situation, organic doesn’t mean the kind of label you find on fruit at the supermarket. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make people think a product is good for them. The word organic, when related to food means that the growers didn’t use particular chemicals. When we talk about organic solvents, the term organic is related to chemistry. In the field of chemistry, the term organic represents any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can generate a high number of molecules and therefore worthwhile chemicals. But at times they can also be harmful. Millions of workers each year work with organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the risks of hearing loss as they do so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?
Some of the following items contain organic solvents:
- Glues and adhesives
- Cleaning products
- Paints and varnishes
- Degreasing elements
You get it. So, this is the question, will your hearing be damaged by painting or even cleaning?
Risks Related to Organic Solvents
According to the most current research out there, the hazards associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re subjected to them. This means that you’ll most likely be okay while you clean your kitchen. The most potent risk is experienced by people with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or use organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well studied and definitively demonstrate that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in laboratory experiments using animals and in experiential surveys with real people. Exposure to the solvents can have a detrimental effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, resulting in hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by company owners. An even smaller number of workers know about the dangers. So there are a lack of standardized protocols to safeguard the hearing of those workers. All workers who deal with solvents could have hearing screenings regularly and that would really help. These hearing examinations would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.
You Have to go to Work
Most recommendations for safeguarding your ears from these particular organic compounds include controlling your exposure coupled with periodic hearing tests. But first, you need to be aware of the hazards before you can heed that advice. When the dangers are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. Everyone knows that loud noises can damage your ears and so taking steps to safeguard your ears from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor are logical and obvious. But it’s not so easy to persuade employers to take precautions when there is an invisible threat. Fortunately, as researchers sound more alarm bells, employees and employers are starting to make their places of work a little bit safer for everyone. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated spot. It would also be a practical plan to have your ears looked at by a hearing specialist.