The influence of sex, allergic rhinitis, and test system on nasal sensitivity to airborne irritants: a pilot study

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Jan;109(1):15-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0110915.


"Nasal irritant sensitivity" is an important construct in environmental health science; functional measures, however, lack standardization. We performed duplicate measures of nasal irritant perceptual acuity on 16 subjects (evenly divided by sex and seasonal allergy status) using two different test compounds: carbon dioxide (CO2) (detection) and n-propanol (localization). The a priori hypotheses included a) allergic rhinitics will display lower perceptual thresholds than nonrhinitics; b) females will display lower perceptual thresholds than males; and c) estimates of perceptual acuity using the two test systems will be positively correlated. We obtained CO2 detection thresholds using an ascending concentration series, presenting 3-sec pulses of CO2, paired with air in random order, by nasal cannula. We obtained localization thresholds by simultaneously presenting stimuli (ascending concentrations of n-propanol vapor in air) and blanks (saturated water vapor in air) to opposite nostrils, with laterality randomized. In terms of test-retest reliability, individual replicate measures for CO2 detection thresholds correlated more closely than did the localization thresholds of volatile organic compounds (VOC) (r = 0.65 and r = 0.60, respectively). As an intertest comparison, log-transformed individual mean CO2 and VOC measures were positively correlated with an r of 0.63 (p < 0.01). In univariate analyses, sex predicted both log-transformed CO2 and VOC thresholds (females being more "sensitive"; p < 0.05 and 0.001, respectively). Nasal allergies predicted sensory testing results only in the multivariate analysis, and then only for VOC localization (p < 0.05). The question of population variation in nasal irritant sensitivity (as well as the generalizability of results across test compounds) deserves further attention.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • 1-Propanol / administration & dosage
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects*
  • Carbon Dioxide / administration & dosage
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / drug effects
  • Chemoreceptor Cells / physiology*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Organic Chemicals / adverse effects
  • Pilot Projects
  • Reference Values
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Perennial / complications*
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Sex Factors
  • Sick Building Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Volatilization


  • Organic Chemicals
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • 1-Propanol