The effects of air pollutants and irritants on the upper airway

Proc Am Thorac Soc. 2011 Mar;8(1):101-5. doi: 10.1513/pats.201003-027RN.


The nose and upper airway play a sentinel role in the respiratory tract, alerting an individual to the qualities of the inspired atmosphere. The upper airway also clears contaminants from the inspired airstream and physically conditions inspired air before its entry into the lower respiratory tract. Given these anatomical and functional considerations, the nose may be the initial-or even prime-target of air pollutants. This article reviews the functional anatomy of the upper airway in humans, its vulnerabilities to various classes of air contaminants, and the relationship between chemical irritation and allergic inflammation in the upper airway.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Irritants / adverse effects*
  • Larynx / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Nasal Cavity / physiopathology*
  • Nasal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Nasal Mucosa / physiopathology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Paranasal Sinuses / physiopathology
  • Respiratory System
  • Risk Factors
  • Severity of Illness Index


  • Air Pollutants
  • Irritants