Hearing Assessment Center, LLC - Lutherville, Bel Air, and  Nottingham, MD

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes it’s easy to identify hazards to your hearing: a roaring jet engine or loud machines. When the risks are logical and intuitive, it’s easy to get people on board with practical solutions (which usually include wearing earmuffs or earplugs). But what if there was an organic compound that was just as harmful for your ears as too much noise? Simply because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you. How could something that’s organic be equally as bad for your ears as loud noise?

An Organic Compound You Don’t Want to Eat

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 good chance that a collection of chemicals known as organic solvents can harm your hearing even if exposure is limited and minimal. 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. In fact, marketers utilize the positive connections we have with the word “organic” to get us to buy products with the suggestion that it’s actually good for you (or at 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 related to solvents, is a term used in chemistry. In the field of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any chemicals and compounds that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can generate all varieties of unique molecules and, consequently, a wide variety of different convenient chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t potentially harmful. Each year, millions of workers are exposed to the risks of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.

Organic Solvents, Where do You Find Them?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:

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

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

Organic Solvents And The Hazards Associated With Them

According to the most recent research out there, the hazards associated with organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re subjected to them. So when you clean your house you will probably be fine. The biggest risk is experienced by those with the highest degree of contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or utilize organic solvents on a commercial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well investigated and definitively reveal that exposure can result in ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been demonstrated both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving real people. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be affected when the tiny hair cells of the ear are damaged by solvents. Unfortunately, the ototoxicity of these solvents isn’t widely recognized by business owners. Even fewer workers are aware of the dangers. So there are an absence of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those employees. One thing that could really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing tests for all workers who deal with organic solvents on a regular basis. These workers would be able to get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be detected in its beginning stages.

You Can’t Just Quit Your Job

Most guidelines for protecting your hearing from these particular organic compounds include controlling your exposure and also periodic hearing tests. But first, you have to be mindful of the hazards before you can follow that advice. When the risks are obvious, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you have to take precautions to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud noises. But when the danger is invisible as it is for the millions of people who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Thankfully, as researchers raise more alarms, employers and employees alike are beginning to make their work environments a little bit safer for everyone. For the time being, it’s a good strategy to only use these products in a well-ventilated area and to wear masks. Having your ears tested by a hearing expert is also a practical idea.

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