Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

At times the hazards to your ears are obvious: loud equipment or a roaring jet engine. When the risks are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to get people on board with practical solutions (which usually include using earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be harmed by an organic compound? Simply because something is organic doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you. How can something that’s organic be equally as bad for your ears as loud noise?

An Organic Substance 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, chemicals called organic solvents have a good chance of damaging your hearing even with minimal exposure. To be certain, the kind of organic label you find on fruit in the supermarket is totally different. Actually, marketers utilize the positive associations we have with the word “organic” to sell us products with the suggestion it’s actually good for you (or at the very least not bad for you). When food is labeled as organic, it means that certain growing methods are employed to keep food free of artificial contaminants. The term organic, when associated with solvents, is a chemistry term. In the field of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that consist of bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a significant number of molecules and consequently useful chemicals. But sometimes they can also be unsafe. Millions of workers every year work with organic solvents and they’re frequently exposed to the hazards of hearing loss while doing so.

Organic Solvents, Where do You Come Across Them?

Organic solvents are used in some of the following items:

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

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

Dangers Associated With Organic Solvents

According to the most current research available, the dangers related to organic solvents tend to increase the more you’re subjected to them. This means that you’ll probably be okay while you clean your kitchen. 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. Ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system), has been shown to be associated with exposure to organic compounds. Lab tests that used animals, along with surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be the case. Loss of hearing in the mid frequency range can be affected when the tiny hair cells in the ear are injured by solvents. The problem is that many companies are unaware of the ototoxicity of these compounds. These hazards are known even less by workers. So there are insufficient standardized protocols to help protect the hearing of those workers. One thing that may really help, for instance, would be standardized hearing examinations for all workers who deal with organic solvents on a consistent basis. These hearing screenings would be able to detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers could react accordingly.

You Can’t Simply Quit Your Job

Most guidelines for protecting your hearing from these particular organic compounds include regulating your exposure and also regular hearing examinations. But first, you need to be mindful of the risks before you can heed that advice. When the hazards are obvious, it’s not that hard. No one doubts that loud noises can harm your hearing and so precautions to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor seems logical and obvious. But it’s not so straight forward to persuade employers to take safety measures when there is an invisible hazard. Luckily, continuing research is helping both employers and employees take a safer approach. In the meantime, it’s a smart plan to try to use these products in a well-ventilated area and to wear masks. Having your ears evaluated by a hearing expert is also a practical idea.

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