Symptoms in response to controlled diesel exhaust more closely reflect exposure perception than true exposure

PLoS One. 2013 Dec 16;8(12):e83573. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0083573. eCollection 2013.


Background: Diesel exhaust (DE) exposures are very common, yet exposure-related symptoms haven't been rigorously examined.

Objective: Describe symptomatic responses to freshly generated and diluted DE and filtered air (FA) in a controlled human exposure setting; assess whether such responses are altered by perception of exposure.

Methods: 43 subjects participated within three double-blind crossover experiments to order-randomized DE exposure levels (FA and DE calibrated at 100 and/or 200 micrograms/m(3) particulate matter of diameter less than 2.5 microns), and completed questionnaires regarding symptoms and dose perception.

Results: For a given symptom cluster, the majority of those exposed to moderate concentrations of diesel exhaust do not report such symptoms. The most commonly reported symptom cluster was of the nose (29%). Blinding to exposure is generally effective. Perceived exposure, rather than true exposure, is the dominant modifier of symptom reporting.

Conclusion: Controlled human exposure to moderate-dose diesel exhaust is associated with a range of mild symptoms, though the majority of individuals will not experience any given symptom. Blinding to DE exposure is generally effective. Perceived DE exposure, rather than true DE exposure, is the dominant modifier of symptom reporting.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Environmental Illness / etiology
  • Environmental Illness / psychology
  • Female
  • Gasoline
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity
  • Perception*
  • Vehicle Emissions / toxicity*
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants
  • Gasoline
  • Particulate Matter
  • Vehicle Emissions