“Organic” Isn’t Necessarily Good For You

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

At times the dangers to your hearing are obvious: a roaring jet engine or loud equipment. When the dangers are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to get people on board with pragmatic solutions (which normally include wearing earmuffs or earplugs). But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic substance? After all, just because something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s healthy for you? But how is possible that your ears could be harmed by an organic substance?

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 chance that a collection of chemicals known as organic solvents can damage your hearing even if exposure is minimal and limited. To be certain, the type of organic label you see on fruit in the grocery store is totally different. In reality, the word “organic” is used by marketers to make consumers presume a product is good for them. When food is labeled as organic, it means that specific growing practices are used to keep food free of artificial contaminants. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a chemistry term. In the field of chemistry, the word organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that contain bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon can produce a high number of molecules and consequently useful chemicals. But that doesn’t guarantee they aren’t potentially dangerous. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the hazards of hearing loss by handling organic solvents.

Where do You Find Organic Solvents?

Some of the following products contain organic solvents:

  • Degreasing agents
  • Varnishes and paints
  • Adhesives and glue
  • Cleaning supplies

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

Dangers Associated With Organic Solvents

The more you’re subjected to these substances, based on current research, the higher the corresponding risks. So when you clean your home you will probably be ok. The most potent risk is to those with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who develop or make use of organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, especially, have been well investigated and definitively reveal that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). Lab tests that used animals, in addition to surveys of people, have both demonstrated this to be true. Exposure to the solvents can have a negative impact on the outer hair cells of the ear, leading to loss of hearing in the mid-frequency range. The problem is that a lot of businesses are don’t know about the ototoxicity of these solvents. These dangers 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 solvents on a consistent 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 Simply Quit Your Job

Most guidelines for safeguarding your hearing from these particular organic substances include controlling your exposure as well as periodic hearing examinations. But first, you need to be conscious of the dangers before you can heed that advice. It’s easy when the dangers are plain to see. No one doubts that loud noises can injure your hearing and so taking steps to protect your hearing from day-to-day sounds of the factory floor seems obvious and logical. 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. Thankfully, as researchers raise more alarm bells, employees and employers are moving to make their workplaces a little bit safer for everyone. Some of the most practical advice would be to use a mask and work in a well ventilated area. Getting your ears examined by a hearing expert is also a smart idea.