Physical symptoms may be reported in workplace and community settings in which odorous airborne chemicals are present. Despite the relative frequency of such reports, clinicians, public health authorities and sensory scientists often experience difficulty interpreting odor-associated symptoms. The approach to interpretation advocated in this review involves: (i) understanding the toxicology of the agent(s) involved (in particular their relative irritant and odorant potencies); (ii) assessing exposure parameters (i.e. concentration and duration). Depending upon exposure concentration, duration and relative irritant and odorant potencies, a variety of pathophysiological mechanisms may be invoked in explaining odor-associated health symptoms. Some of these imputed mechanisms fall under the traditional scope of toxicology and others involve attitudinal and/or behavioral responses to odors.