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Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

At times the dangers to your ears are clear: the roaring jet engine next to your ears or the bellowing equipment on the factory floor. When the dangers are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to get people on board with pragmatic solutions (which usually include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic substance? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s good for you? How could something that’s organic be equally as bad for your ears as loud noise?

You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Substance

To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can pick up at the produce department of your supermarket nor would you want to. According to recent (and some not-so-recent) research published by European scholars, chemicals called organic solvents have a strong chance of injuring your hearing even with very little exposure. It’s important to note that, in this situation, organic doesn’t make reference to the kind of label you see on fruit at the supermarket. In fact, marketers use the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the suggestion that it’s good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). The word organic, when pertaining to food indicates that the growers didn’t use particular chemicals. The term organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the discipline of chemistry, the word organic represents any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can create a high number of molecules and consequently practical chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially harmful. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the hazards of hearing loss by handling organic solvents.

Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?

Some of the following items have organic solvents:

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

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

Hazard Related to Organic Solvents

The more you’re subjected to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the corresponding dangers. So when you clean your house you will probably be okay. The most potent risk is to those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or use organic solvents on a commercial scale. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be connected to subjection to organic substances. This has been demonstrated both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving actual people. Subjection to the solvents can have a negative effect on the outer hair cells of the ear, resulting in loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well known by company owners. An even smaller number of workers know about the hazards. So those employees don’t have standardized protocols to protect them. All workers who deal with solvents could have hearing examinations regularly and that would be really helpful. These hearing examinations would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to respond accordingly.

You Can’t Just Quit Your Job

Regular Hearing assessments and limiting your exposure to these compounds are the most frequent recommendations. But first, you have to be mindful of the risks before you can follow that advice. It’s easy when the dangers are well known. It’s obvious that you should take safeguards to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud noises. But it isn’t so easy to convince employers to take precautions when there is an invisible threat. Fortunately, as researchers raise more alarm bells, employers and employees alike are starting to make their workplaces a little bit less dangerous for everyone. For the time being, it’s a smart strategy to only work with these products in a well-ventilated place and to wear masks. It would also be a smart plan to get your ears examined by a hearing care specialist.

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