Review of the upper airway, including olfaction, as mediator of symptoms

Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Aug;110 Suppl 4(Suppl 4):649-53. doi: 10.1289/ehp.02110s4649.


The upper airway serves as air conditioner, filter, and warning device. Two neurological modalities, olfaction and trigeminal chemoreception, inform us of the chemical qualities of the air we breathe. A number of poorly understood conditions, including nonallergic rhinitis, irritant-induced rhinitis, odor-triggered asthma, odor-triggered panic attacks, chemical-induced olfactory dysfunction, and irritant-associated vocal cord dysfunction, involve induction of symptoms by odorant and/or irritant chemicals in the upper airway. This article is a summary of the knowledge and theories about these various conditions, and highlights those aspects of nasal anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology relevant to their understanding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Chemoreceptor Cells
  • Environmental Illness / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Panic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Respiratory System / pathology*
  • Rhinitis / physiopathology
  • Smell*
  • Trigeminal Nerve / physiology
  • Vocal Cords / pathology


  • Air Pollutants