Faculty Articles

Subjective ratings of odorants by women with chemical sensitivity

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Toxicology and Industrial Health



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The purpose of the present study was to investigate whether women with chemical sensitivity rated the intensity and pleasantness of three odorants [peppermint, vanilla, and propylene glycol (PG)] and odorless room air differently than women without chemical sensitivity. The ratings of the experimental group (women with self-reported chemical sensitivity and no history of sexual abuse) were compared to those of two control groups who did not report chemical sensitivity [sexually abused (SA) women and healthy women without sexual abuse history]. All subjects were exposed to odorants and odorless control stimuli once a week for 3 consecutive weeks. Our findings indicate that women with chemical sensitivity perceive odorants as neither more or less intense nor more or less pleasant than women without chemical sensitivity. Moreover, the control women without sexual abuse outperformed the women in the other two groups by correctly identifying the target bottle containing the odorant. These findings suggest that perception of odorants alone is unlikely to account for the symptoms associated with chemical sensitivity. These findings, along with those of Doty et al. (1988), support the notion that olfactory-sensory function does not differ between individuals with and without chemical sensitivity.

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