Hearing Health Blog

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes the dangers to your ears are obvious: a loud jet engine beside your ears or the bellowing machinery on the floor of a factory. easy to persuade people to protect their ears when they know they will be around loud sounds. But what if your hearing could be harmed 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 hearing could be damaged by an organic substance?

You Might Not 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, there’s a good chance that a group of chemicals called organic solvents can injure your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. To be certain, the kind of organic label you find on fruit in the supermarket is completely different. In reality, the word “organic” is used by marketers to make consumers presume a product isn’t harmful for them. 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 related to chemistry. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic refers to any chemicals and compounds that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all kinds of different molecules and, consequently, a wide range of different convenient chemicals. But that doesn’t imply they aren’t potentially hazardous. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the hazards of hearing loss by handling organic solvents.

Where do You Find Organic Solvents?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following products:

  • Degreasing chemicals
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Adhesives and glue
  • Varnishes and paints

You get the idea. So, here’s the question, will your hearing be damaged by painting or even cleaning?

Risks Related to Organic Solvents

Based on the most current research out there, the risks associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re exposed to them. This means that you’ll probably be fine while you clean your house. It’s the industrial workers who are continuously around organic solvents that are at the highest risk. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well studied and definitively demonstrate that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be impacted when the tiny hair cells of the ear are damaged by solvents. The issue is that a lot of companies are unaware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These hazards are even less recognized by workers. So there are insufficient standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those workers. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing screening for all workers who deal with organic compounds on a consistent basis. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be detected in its beginning phases.

You Have to go to Work

Most guidelines for protecting your ears from these specific organic compounds include regulating your exposure as well as regular hearing examinations. But first, you have to be mindful of the dangers before you can follow that advice. When the dangers are obvious, it’s not that hard. Everyone recognizes that loud noises can damage your hearing and so precautions to safeguard your ears from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. But it’s not so easy to persuade employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. Luckily, ongoing research is helping both employers and employees take a safer path. For now, it’s a good plan to only work with these products in a well-ventilated place and to wear masks. Having your hearing checked by a hearing care specialist is also a practical idea.

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