At times the dangers to your ears are clear: a roaring jet engine or loud machinery. When the hazards are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to get people on board with practical solutions (which usually include using earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic substance? 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 Compound
To clarify, these organic compounds are not something you can get 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 possibility that a collection of chemicals known as organic solvents can damage your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. To be clear, the type of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is totally different. The truth is, marketers utilize the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to sell us products with the implication that it’s actually good for you (or at least not bad for you). When food is designated as organic, it means that certain growing practices are implemented to keep food free of artificial impurities. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a term used in chemistry. In the discipline of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all varieties of unique molecules and, therefore, a large number of different useful chemicals. But at times they can also be harmful. Millions of workers each year handle organic solvents and they’re often exposed to the dangers of hearing loss while doing so.
Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?
Some of the following products contain organic solvents:
- Degreasing agents
- Paints and varnishes
- Cleaning products
- Glues and adhesives
You get the point. So, the question suddenly becomes, will your hearing be damaged by cleaning or painting?
Organic Solvents And The Hazards Related to Them
Based on the most current research out there, the hazards associated with organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re subjected to them. So when you clean your house you will most likely be okay. The most potent risk is to those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or utilize organic solvents on an industrial scale. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been demonstrated to be connected to subjection to organic substances. Lab tests that utilized animals, along with surveys of people, have both revealed this to be the case. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, resulting in hearing loss in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by business owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the dangers. So those workers don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. One thing that may really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who use organic compounds on a consistent basis. These hearing tests would be able to detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.
You Can’t Just Quit Your Job
Most recommendations for safeguarding your ears from these particular organic compounds include managing your exposure coupled with regular hearing tests. But if you expect that advice to be effective, you need to be aware of the dangers first. It’s simple when the dangers are plain to see. It’s obvious that you have to take safeguards against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud noises. But it isn’t so straight forward to persuade employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. Thankfully, as specialists raise more alarms, employers and employees alike are beginning to make their work environments a little bit less dangerous for everyone. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated spot. Having your ears tested by a hearing expert is also a practical idea.