Olfactory sensitivity in medical laboratory workers occupationally exposed to organic solvent mixtures

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BackgroundPublished epidemiological information relating the effects of occupational exposure to organic solvents (OS) to olfaction is limited.AimsThe objectives of this pilot study were to measure the chemosensory abilities of medical laboratory employees occupationally exposed to OS mixtures, to compare these with control workers employed within the same occupational setting and to correlate chemosensory performance with OS exposure history and with employees' hedonic (pleasantness) perceptions about workplace OS odors.MethodsTwenty-four medical laboratory employees (OS-exposed technicians plus control workers minimally exposed to OS) completed a health-related questionnaire, a test of pyridine odor detection threshold, along with a gustatory detection threshold test involving aqueous quinine solutions. Estimates of cumulative hours of OS exposure (CSI) were calculated from self-reports.ResultsOS-exposed laboratory technicians detected weaker concentrations of pyridine odor. Positive correlations were detected between CSI estimates to both pyridine detection and the degree that participants reported that OS odors were present in the workplace. However, no association was detected between pyridine detection and how unpleasant workplace OS odors were perceived. The OS-exposed participants were able to detect weaker concentrations of quinine. Compared to controls, OS-exposed workers complained more of experiencing several symptoms while working, including headaches, nasal irritation and mild cognitive impairment.ConclusionsThe results of this cross-sectional pilot study indicated that, compared to controls, medical laboratory technicians exposed to low-level OS mixtures displayed evidence of elevated olfactory sensitivity (hyperosmia) to pyridine odor. The relation of this study's results to chemical intolerance warrants further investigation.

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