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Hearing Aids by Tricia Leagjeld - Redmond, OR

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes the dangers to your ears are obvious: a roaring jet engine or loud machines. When the hazards are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to get people on board with practical solutions (which normally include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic compound? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that 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 Substance You Don’t Want to Eat

To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can get at the produce department of your supermarket 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 known as organic solvents can damage your hearing even if exposure is minimal and limited. To be clear, the sort of organic label you find on fruit in the grocery store is entirely different. As a matter of fact, the word “organic” is utilized by marketers to make consumers think a product isn’t harmful for them. When food is designated as organic, it means that certain growing practices are used to keep food free of artificial pollutants. When we talk about organic solvents, the term organic is chemistry-related. In the discipline of chemistry, the word organic represents any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can produce all kinds of different molecules and, therefore, a large number of different useful chemicals. But that doesn’t mean they’re not potentially dangerous. Millions of workers every year work with organic solvents and they’re often exposed to the risks of hearing loss while doing so.

Where do You Find Organic Solvents?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:

  • Adhesives and glue
  • Degreasing chemicals
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Paints and varnishes

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

Organic Solvents And The Hazards Related to Them

The more you’re exposed to these substances, based on current research, the higher the associated dangers. This means that you’ll probably be fine while you clean your house. The most potent risk is to individuals with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or use organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well researched and definitively demonstrate that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that used animals, as well as surveys of people, have both revealed this to be the case. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be affected when the tiny hair cells of the ear are damaged by solvents. The issue is that a lot of companies are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These risks are even less recognized by workers. So there are an absence of standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those workers. All workers who handle solvents could have hearing screenings regularly and that would really help. These workers could get early treatment for hearing loss because it would be discovered in its beginning stages.

You Need to Work

Periodic Hearing tests and limiting your exposure to these solvents are the most frequent suggestions. But first, you have to be aware of the risks before you can follow that advice. When the risks are obvious, it’s not that hard. It’s obvious that you should take safeguards to protect against the noise of the factory floor and any other loud noises. But when the threat is not visible as it is for the millions of Americans who work with organic solvents, solutions can be more difficult to sell. Fortunately, as specialists sound more alarm bells, employers and employees alike are beginning to make their places of work a little bit safer for everyone. Some of the best advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated place. It would also be a good plan to get your ears checked by a hearing care professional.

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