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Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2006 Apr;79(4):322-31. Epub 2006 Jan 25.

Olfactory toxicity: long-term effects of occupational exposures.

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Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Via Campi 287, 41100 Modena, MO, Italy.



To present and discuss the results of research on olfactory function impairments related to chronic occupational exposure to industrial chemicals.


This review is mainly focused on the results of epidemiological studies on olfactory function, evaluated using quantitative testing methods, in workers chronically exposed to airborne industrial chemicals. Papers published in peer-reviewed scientific journals were mainly considered.


The prevalence of olfactory impairments related to occupational exposure to chemicals is unknown: frequencies ranging 0.5-5% of all olfactory dysfunctions have been proposed, considering both exposure to chemicals and the use of pharmaceutical drugs, but the real relevance of this problem is possibly overlooked, especially considering that occupational exposure may account for a significant part of "idiopathic" smell disorders, i.e., the 10-25% of all olfactory problems within the general population. An adverse effect has been reported in workers chronically exposed to some metals as cadmium, chromium, manganese, arsenic, mercury, and organic lead, and to other chemicals as acrylates, styrene, and solvent mixtures. The results of relevant studies are discussed. A problem in the evaluation of data is that different methods have been applied in different studies, affecting the comparability of results.


To date, knowledge of the effect of chronic occupational exposure to industrial chemicals on olfactory function is largely incomplete, but supports the hypothesis that olfactory neuroepithelium is susceptible to environmental exposures to chemicals. Occupational-related olfactory impairment is usually sub-clinical, and can be only detected using adequate quantitative olfactory function testing procedures. Available data show the need for further good quality research in this field.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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