Olfactory Function in Latino Farmworkers: Subclinical Neurological Effects of Pesticide Exposure in a Vulnerable Population

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Objectives:We compared olfactory function in pesticide-exposed Latino farmworkers and nonfarmworkers to explore its use as a subclinical indicator of neurological pesticide effects.Methods:We recruited 304 current farmworkers and 247 nonfarmworkers. All completed odor identification (14 odors) and threshold tests (16 concentrations of n-butanol) using a well-established methodology.Results:Farmworkers reported significantly greater lifetime pesticide exposure. Performance on both olfactory tests declined with age. Odor identification performance did not differ between groups. For odor threshold, farmworkers needed significantly higher concentrations to detect the odor. Results were unchanged when adjusted for sex, age, and smoking.Conclusion:Olfactory function differences between farmworkers and nonfarmworkers suggest possible neurological effects. Because declining olfactory function is an early symptom of Parkinson disease and related conditions, it is a possible subclinical indicator of neurodegenerative disease in this vulnerable worker population.

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