Workplace, age, and sex as mediators of olfactory function: data from the National Geographic Smell Survey

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 1995 Jul;50(4):P179-86. doi: 10.1093/geronb/50b.4.p179.


Certain medications and environmental agents are known to adversely affect chemosensation. We report data from 712,000 respondents aged 20 to 79 to the National Geographic Smell Survey that suggest that exposure to the factory workplace adversely affects the sense of smell, and that these effects interact with age. Men and women with histories of factory work reported poorer senses of smell relative to other workers. They also demonstrated objective evidence of greater impairment in odor detection. These effects were greater for men. Factory workers of all ages more frequently reported olfactory loss secondary to chemical exposure and head injury than did workers in other environments. The highest relative risk of olfactory problems secondary to head injury was in the oldest women factory workers. Thus, olfaction may behave as other senses do: Age, sex, and exposure to noxious events or agents interact to produce sensory deficits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology
  • Occupational Diseases / etiology*
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / epidemiology
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sex Distribution
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Workplace