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Enhanced Hearing Center - Springfield, MO

Organic paint and solvents that cause hearing loss.

Sometimes the hazards to your ears are clear: a loud jet engine next to your ears or the screeching machines on the floor of a factory. When the hazards are intuitive and logical, it’s easy to convince people to take practical solutions (which normally include wearing earplugs or earmuffs). But what if your ears could be damaged by an organic compound? After all, if something is organic, doesn’t that necessarily mean it’s good for you? But how is possible that your hearing could be harmed by an organic substance?

You Probably Won’t Want to Eat This Organic Substance

To clarify, these organic substances are not something you can pick up at the produce section of your grocery store and you wouldn’t 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 called organic solvents can harm your hearing even if exposure is minimal and limited. To be certain, the sort of organic label you find on fruit in the grocery store is totally different. In reality, the word “organic” is used by marketers to make people believe a product isn’t harmful for them. When food is classified as organic, it means that particular growing methods are employed to keep food from having artificial impurities. The word organic, when related to solvents, is a term used in chemistry. Within the field of chemistry, the term organic makes reference to any compounds and chemicals that have bonds between carbon atoms. Carbon atoms can create all varieties of distinctive molecules and, therefore, a large number of different convenient chemicals. But sometimes they can also be dangerous. Every year, millions of workers are exposed to the dangers of hearing loss by working with organic solvents.

Where do You Come Across Organic Solvents?

Some of the following items have organic solvents:

  • Paints and varnishes
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Degreasing elements
  • Cleaning products

You get the point. So, this is the question, will painting (or even cleaning) your bathroom damage your hearing?

Organic Solvents And The Risks Related to Them

Based on the most recent research out there, the risks associated with organic solvents generally increase the more you’re exposed to them. So when you clean your house you will probably be fine. The most potent risk is experienced by people with the most prolonged contact, in other words, factory workers who produce or make use of organic solvents on an industrial scale. Industrial solvents, in particular, have been well investigated and definitively reveal that exposure can trigger ototoxicity (toxicity to the auditory system). This has been shown both in lab experiments involving animals and in experiential surveys involving actual people. Hearing loss in the mid frequency range can be affected when the little hair cells of the ear are injured by solvents. The problem is that many businesses are not aware of the ototoxicity of these solvents. These hazards 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 examinations on a regular basis and that would really help. These hearing tests would be able to detect the very earliest signs of hearing loss, and workers could respond accordingly.

You Have to Work

Routine Hearing exams and limiting your exposure to these solvents are the most frequent recommendations. But if you want that advice to be successful, you have to be aware of the dangers first. It’s easy when the risks are well known. No one doubts that loud noises can damage your ears and so precautions 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 is the case for the millions of people who work with organic solvents, solutions can be a harder sell. Fortunately, as specialists raise more alarm bells, employers and employees alike are moving to make their places of work a little bit safer for everyone. In the meantime, it’s a good plan to try to use these products in a well-ventilated place and to wear masks. It would also be a smart idea to get your ears looked at by a hearing care professional.

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