Hearing Health Blog

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes it can be easy to recognize hazards to your hearing: a roaring jet engine or loud machinery. It’s not hard to convince people to use ear protection when they recognize that they will be near loud sounds. But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic compound? Simply because something is organic doesn’t always mean it’s healthy for you. But how is possible that your ears could be damaged by an organic substance?

An Organic Compound You Don’t Want to Eat

To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can get at 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, chemicals called organic solvents have a good possibility of damaging your ears even with very little exposure. It’s significant to note that, in this case, organic does not refer to the kind of label you see on fruit at the supermarket. Actually, 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 the very least not bad for you). The word organic, when related to food means that the growers didn’t use particular chemicals. The term organic, when associated with solvents, is a chemistry term. Within the field of chemistry, the term organic describes any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can create a significant number of molecules and consequently useful chemicals. But that doesn’t guarantee they’re not potentially dangerous. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the hazards of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.

Where do You Come Across Organic Solvents?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:

  • Cleaning supplies
  • Degreasing elements
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Paints and varnishes

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

Hazard Related to Organic Solvents

The more you’re exposed to these substances, according to current research, the higher the associated risks. So when you clean your home you will most likely be fine. It’s the industrial workers who are continuously exposed to organic solvents that have the highest danger. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well studied and definitively reveal that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in laboratory experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys with real people. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be affected when the tiny hair cells of the ear are injured by solvents. Regretfully, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by company owners. An even smaller number of workers know about the hazards. So those employees don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. All workers who handle solvents could get hearing examinations regularly and that would really help. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be detected in its beginning stages.

You Can’t Just Quit Your Job

Most recommendations for protecting your ears from these particular organic compounds include regulating your exposure as well as routine hearing tests. But first, you need to be mindful of the dangers before you can heed that advice. It’s simple when the hazards are plain to see. Everyone recognizes that loud noises can damage your hearing and so precautions to protect your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. But when the threat is invisible as is the case for the millions of Us citizens who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. Fortunately, as researchers raise more alarm bells, employees and employers are moving to make their places of work a little bit less dangerous for everyone. Some of the best advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. Having your ears checked by a hearing care professional is also a good idea.

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