Differences in nasal irritant sensitivity by age, gender, and allergic rhinitis status

  • Dennis Shusterman
  • Mary Alice Murphy
  • John Balmes
Original Article

Abstract

Objectives

Sensory (eye, nose, and throat) irritation is an important component of non-specific building-related illness ("sick-building syndrome"). Inter-individual variability in susceptibility to upper airway/mucous membrane irritants is suspected epidemiologically, but has been neglected experimentally. We wished to document population variability in nasal irritant sensitivity, as indexed by threshold measurements of sensory acuity. We hypothesized that younger subjects, women, and allergic rhinitis sufferers would display lower sensory thresholds than would older subjects, men, and rhinitis non-sufferers.

Methods

We evaluated Sixty human subjects (stratified by age, gender, and seasonal allergy status), using two different test systems: (1) carbon dioxide (detection) and (2) n-propanol (localization). We obtained carbon dioxide (CO2) detection thresholds using an ascending concentration series, presenting 3-s pulses of CO2, paired with air in random order, by nasal cannula. Localization thresholds were obtained by the simultaneous presentation of n-propanol vapor (ascending concentrations in air) and blanks (saturated water vapor in air) to opposite nostrils, with laterality randomized. Threshold data were log-transformed to satisfy normality and analyzed by population marker via ANOVA and linear regression.

Results

Test–retest variability was greater for volatile organic compound (VOC) localization than for CO2 detection (r=0.50 and 0.75, respectively); the two measurements were, however, positively correlated (r=0.48; P<0.001). Age predicted both (log-transformed) VOC localization thresholds (P<0.0001) and (log-transformed) CO2 thresholds (P<0.01), with younger age predicting lower thresholds. Female gender predicted lower CO2 detection (P<0.05) but not VOC localization thresholds (P=0.10). Nasal allergies predicted lower VOC localization (P<0.05) but not CO2 detection thresholds (P=0.52).

Conclusions

Consistent with epidemiological reporting patterns in so-called problem buildings, nasal irritant sensitivity appears to be non-randomly distributed in the population, with significant variability predicted by age, gender, and the presence of allergic rhinitis.

Keywords

Sensory irritation Demographics Allergic rhinitis Sick-building syndrome VOCs 

Notes

Acknowledgements

Supported by NIH grant R01 ES10424. The authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Paula Walsh, Elizabeth Matovinovic, MSc, and Alice Tarun, PhD, in subject recruitment and in the formulation and analysis of the vapor-phase stimuli utilized in this experiment.

References

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  35. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502Stevens JC, Cain WS (1986) Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav 37:323–328PubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502Stevens JC, Cain WS (1986) Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav 37:323–328Ten Brinke J, Selvin S, Hodgson AT, Fisk WJ, Mendell MJ, Koshland CP, Daisey JM (1998) Development of new volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure metrics and their relationship to "sick-building syndrome" symptoms. Indoor Air 8:140–152Google Scholar
  38. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502Stevens JC, Cain WS (1986) Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav 37:323–328Ten Brinke J, Selvin S, Hodgson AT, Fisk WJ, Mendell MJ, Koshland CP, Daisey JM (1998) Development of new volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure metrics and their relationship to "sick-building syndrome" symptoms. Indoor Air 8:140–152Undem BJ, Kajekar R, Hunter DD, Myers AC (2000) Neural integration and allergic disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 106:S213–220PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502Stevens JC, Cain WS (1986) Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav 37:323–328Ten Brinke J, Selvin S, Hodgson AT, Fisk WJ, Mendell MJ, Koshland CP, Daisey JM (1998) Development of new volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure metrics and their relationship to "sick-building syndrome" symptoms. Indoor Air 8:140–152Undem BJ, Kajekar R, Hunter DD, Myers AC (2000) Neural integration and allergic disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 106:S213–220Von Skramlik E (1925) Uber die Lokalisation der Empfindungen bei den niederen Sinnen. Z Sinnesphysiol 56:69–140Google Scholar
  40. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502Stevens JC, Cain WS (1986) Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav 37:323–328Ten Brinke J, Selvin S, Hodgson AT, Fisk WJ, Mendell MJ, Koshland CP, Daisey JM (1998) Development of new volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure metrics and their relationship to "sick-building syndrome" symptoms. Indoor Air 8:140–152Undem BJ, Kajekar R, Hunter DD, Myers AC (2000) Neural integration and allergic disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 106:S213–220Von Skramlik E (1925) Uber die Lokalisation der Empfindungen bei den niederen Sinnen. Z Sinnesphysiol 56:69–140Wysocki CJ, Green BG, Malia TP (1992) Monorhinal stimulation as a method for differentiating between thresholds for irritation and odor (abstract). Chem Senses 17:722–723Google Scholar
  41. Murphy C, Schubert CR, Cruickshanks KJ, Klein BE, Klein R, Nondahl DM (2002) Prevalence of olfactory impairment in older adults. JAMA 288:2307–2312Muzi G, Abbritti G, Accattoli MP, dell'Omo M (1998) Prevalence of irritative symptoms in a nonproblem air-conditioned office building. Int Arch Occup Environ Health 71:372–378Ryan CM, Morrow LA (1992) Dysfunctional buildings or dysfunctional people: an examination of the sick-building syndrome and allied disorders. J Consul Clin Psychol 60:220–224Schneider RA, Schmidt CE (1967) Dependency of olfactory localization on non-olfactory cues. Physiol Behav 2:305–309Shusterman D (2002) Individual factors in nasal chemesthesis. Chem Senses 27:551–564Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997a) A comparison of two methods for determining nasal irritant sensitivity. Am J Rhinol 11:379–386Shusterman D, Balmes J (1997b) Measurement of nasal irritant sensitivity to pulsed carbon dioxide: a pilot study. Arch Environ Med 52:334–340Shusterman D, Murphy MA, Balmes J (2001) The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study. Environ Health Perspect 109:15–19Stenberg B, Wall S (1995) Why do women report 'sick-building symptoms' more often than men? Soc Sci Med 40:491–502Stevens JC, Cain WS (1986) Aging and the perception of nasal irritation. Physiol Behav 37:323–328Ten Brinke J, Selvin S, Hodgson AT, Fisk WJ, Mendell MJ, Koshland CP, Daisey JM (1998) Development of new volatile organic compound (VOC) exposure metrics and their relationship to "sick-building syndrome" symptoms. Indoor Air 8:140–152Undem BJ, Kajekar R, Hunter DD, Myers AC (2000) Neural integration and allergic disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 106:S213–220Von Skramlik E (1925) Uber die Lokalisation der Empfindungen bei den niederen Sinnen. Z Sinnesphysiol 56:69–140Wysocki CJ, Green BG, Malia TP (1992) Monorhinal stimulation as a method for differentiating between thresholds for irritation and odor (abstract). Chem Senses 17:722–723Wysocki CJ, Cowart BJ, Radil T (2003) Nasal trigeminal chemosensitivity across the adult life span. Percept Psychophys 65:115–122PubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dennis Shusterman
    • 1
  • Mary Alice Murphy
    • 2
  • John Balmes
    • 1
  1. 1.Upper Airway Biology LaboratoryUniversity of California, San FranciscoRichmond, CaliforniaUSA
  2. 2.Department of PediatricsUniversity of CaliforniaSan Francisco, CaliforniaUSA

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