Hearing Health Blog

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

At times the hazards to your ears are obvious: loud machinery or a roaring jet engine. It’s not hard to convince people to use ear protection when they know they will be around loud noises. But what if there was an organic compound that was just as bad for your ears as excessive noise? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that mean it’s healthy for you? How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your hearing as loud noise?

You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Compound

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 strong possibility that a collection of chemicals called organic solvents can damage your hearing even if exposure is minimal and brief. To be certain, the sort of organic label you find on fruit in the grocery store is completely different. In fact, marketers utilize the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the implication that it’s actually good for you (or at least not bad for you). When food is labeled as organic, it means that particular growing methods are implemented to keep food from having artificial impurities. The word organic, when associated with solvents, is a chemistry term. In the discipline of chemistry, the term organic represents any compounds and chemicals that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all varieties of distinctive molecules and, therefore, a large number of different convenient chemicals. But that doesn’t guarantee they’re not potentially harmful. Millions of workers each year handle organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the dangers of hearing loss as they do so.

Where do You Come Across Organic Solvents?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following products:

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

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

Organic Solvents And The Dangers Related to Them

The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on current research, the higher the corresponding risks. This means that you’ll most likely be fine while you clean your house. It’s the industrial workers who are regularly exposed to organic solvents that are at the highest danger. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been demonstrated to be connected to exposure to organic compounds. This has been shown both in lab experiments using animals and in experiential surveys involving actual people. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be affected 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. These hazards are even less recognized by workers. So there are an absence of standardized protocols to safeguard the hearing of those employees. One thing that could really help, for example, would be standardized hearing exams for all workers who deal with organic compounds on a consistent basis. These hearing screenings would detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.

You Can’t Just Quit Your Job

Most guidelines for protecting your hearing from these particular organic substances include regulating your exposure and also regular hearing examinations. But if you want that recommendation to be practical, you need to be informed of the hazards first. When the dangers are in plain sight, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your hearing and so precautions to safeguard your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor are logical and obvious. But it’s not so straight forward to persuade employers to take precautions when there is an invisible threat. Fortunately, as researchers sound more alarms, employees and employers are moving to make their places of work a little bit safer for everyone. Some of the best advice would be to wear a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a good idea to have your ears examined by a hearing care professional.

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