Hearing Health Blog

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes the hazards to your hearing are clear: the roaring jet engine next to your ears or the bellowing machines on the floor of a factory. It’s not hard to convince people to protect their ears when they recognize that they will be around loud sounds. But what if there was an organic compound that was as bad for your hearing as excessive noise? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s healthy for you? How can something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?

You Might Not Want to Eat This Organic Substance

To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can pick up 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 group of chemicals called organic solvents can damage your hearing even if exposure is minimal and limited. It’s worthwhile to note that, in this situation, organic does not refer to the kind of label you find on fruit at the grocery store. In reality, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make consumers think a product is good for them. The word organic, when pertaining to food signifies that the growers didn’t use particular chemicals. When we talk about organic solvents, the word organic is related to chemistry. In the field of chemistry, the word organic refers to any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can create a high number of molecules and therefore useful chemicals. But at times they can also be harmful. Millions of workers every year work with organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the dangers of hearing loss as they do so.

Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following products:

  • Glues and adhesives
  • Cleaning products
  • Varnishes and paints
  • Degreasing chemicals

You get the point. So, the question suddenly becomes, will painting (or even cleaning) your bathroom harm your hearing?

Dangers Associated With Organic Solvents

The more you’re subjected to these substances, based on recent research, the higher the associated risks. This means that you’ll probably be fine while you clean your bathroom. The most potent risk is to those with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or use organic solvents on a commercial scale. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well studied and definitively reveal that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that used animals, in addition to surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be the case. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be impacted when the little hair cells in the ear are injured by solvents. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t widely recognized by business owners. An even smaller number of workers are aware of the hazards. So those employees don’t have consistent protocols to protect them. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing tests for all workers who handle organic solvents on a regular basis. These hearing screenings would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.

You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job

Regular Hearing exams and controlling your exposure to these solvents are the most frequent suggestions. But in order for that recommendation to be effective, you have to be mindful of the dangers first. It’s easy when the risks are plain to see. Everyone recognizes that loud noises can injure your hearing and so taking steps to protect your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor are logical and obvious. But it isn’t so easy to persuade employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible threat. Luckily, continuing research is helping both employers and employees take a safer path. Some of the most practical advice would be to wear a mask and work in a well ventilated spot. Having your ears tested by a hearing care professional is also a good idea.

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