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Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

At times the hazards to your ears are obvious: the roaring jet engine beside your ears or the screeching machinery on the factory floor. It’s not difficult to persuade people to protect their ears when they know they will be near loud sounds. But what if there was an organic compound that was as harmful for your ears as excessive noise? Just because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you. How could something that’s organic be just as bad for your ears as loud noise?

You Probably Won’t 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 strong possibility that a collection of chemicals called organic solvents can injure your hearing even if exposure is brief and minimal. It’s significant to note that, in this case, organic does not mean the type of label you see on fruit at the grocery store. As a matter of fact, the word “organic” is employed by marketers to make consumers think a product is good for them. The word organic, when associated with food indicates that the growers didn’t use particular chemicals. The term organic, when associated with solvents, is a term used in chemistry. Within the discipline of chemistry, the word organic describes any chemicals and compounds that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of distinctive molecules and, therefore, a wide variety of different useful chemicals. But that doesn’t guarantee they aren’t potentially hazardous. Millions of workers each year work with organic solvents and they’re regularly exposed to the dangers of hearing loss while doing so.

Where do You Find Organic Solvents?

Some of the following items contain organic solvents:

  • Varnishes and paints
  • Degreasing elements
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Glues and adhesives

You get it. So, this is the question, will your hearing be harmed by painting or even cleaning?

Organic Solvents And The Dangers Related to Them

Based on the most current research out there, the risks related to 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 have the highest risk. Industrial solvents, most notably, have been well studied and definitively demonstrate that exposure can lead to ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that used animals, along with surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be true. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be affected when the little hair cells of the ear are injured by solvents. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t well recognized by company owners. An even smaller number of workers know about the risks. So those employees don’t have consistent protocols to safeguard them. One thing that may really help, for example, would be standardized hearing screening for all workers who deal with organic solvents on a consistent basis. These hearing tests would be able to detect the very earliest indications of hearing loss, and workers would be able to react accordingly.

You Can’t Just Quit Your Job

Most recommendations for safeguarding your hearing from these particular organic compounds include managing your exposure and also regular hearing screenings. But first, you have to be conscious of the risks before you can heed that advice. It’s straight forward when the risks are well known. No one doubts that loud noises can harm your hearing and so taking steps to safeguard your hearing from the daily sound of the factory floor are obvious and logical. But when the danger is invisible as is the case for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. The good news is, continuing research is assisting 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 area and to always wear a mask. It would also be a practical idea to have your hearing checked by a hearing care specialist.