Examination of the influence of personal traits and habituation on the reporting of complaints at experimental exposure to ammonia

Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2006 Apr;79(4):332-8. doi: 10.1007/s00420-005-0042-y. Epub 2005 Dec 20.


Objective: The aim of the study is to examine the impact of personal traits and habituation on the intensity of self reported health symptoms and complaints.

Methods: Forty-three healthy male volunteers were exposed to ammonia vapours in concentrations of 0, 10, 20, 20/40, and 50 ppm on five consecutive days. To explore a possible influence of habituation on the perception of symptoms, the study group was divided into 30 men who were not familiar with the smell of ammonia, and ten participants regularly exposed to ammonia at the workplace. The perceived acute health symptoms and self-reported changes of well-being were assessed by the German version of a questionnaire of the Swedish Performance Evaluation System (SPES). Personal traits were ascertained with the positive and negative affectivity schedule (PANAS) and the Freiburger Persönlichkeits Inventar (FPI).

Results: There are significant associations between personal traits and the amount of complaints. Subjects with high positive affectivity report less respiratory and irritative complaints, whereas persons with negative affectivity report significantly more olfactory and respiratory symptoms. In general, the strength of these correlations decreases with higher exposure levels. At ammonia concentration above 20 ppm, these associations were no more statistically significant. During the daily exposures, the score of symptoms did not vary significantly. The perceived intensity of health symptoms and annoyance increased with the concentration of ammonia, while the self-reported dimensions of well-being decreased. Workers familiar with the smell of ammonia vapours reported less symptoms compared to naïve subjects.

Conclusions: Habituation to ammonia vapours as well as personal traits influence the reporting of complaints particularly at low exposure. Both factors should be considered in the examination of chemosensory irritative compounds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Ammonia / adverse effects*
  • Chemical Industry
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Habituation, Psychophysiologic*
  • Humans
  • Irritants / adverse effects
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Assessment
  • Personality*
  • Sensory Thresholds*
  • Smell / physiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Air Pollutants
  • Irritants
  • Ammonia