Air Pollution Adversely Affects Olfactory Function and Intranasal Trigeminal Sensitivity

Air Pollution in Mexico City

Surprisingly little is known about the effects of big-city air pollution on olfactory function and even less about its effects on the intranasal trigeminal system, which elicits sensations like burning, stinging, pungent, or fresh and contributes to the overall chemosensory experience. 

Using the Sniffin’ Sticks olfactory test battery and an established test for intranasal trigeminal perception, we compared the olfactory performance and trigeminal sensitivity of residents of Mexico City, a region with high air pollution, with the performance of a control population from the Mexican state of Tlaxcala, a geographically comparable but less polluted region. 

We compared the ability of 30 young adults from each location to detect a rose-like odor (2-phenyl ethanol), to discriminate between different odorants, and to identify several other common odorants. The control subjects from Tlaxcala detected 2-phenyl ethanol at significantly lower concentrations than the Mexico City subjects, they could discriminate between odorants significantly better, and they performed significantly better in the test of trigeminal sensitivity. 

We conclude that Mexico City air pollution impairs olfactory function and intranasal trigeminal sensitivity, even in otherwise healthy young adults. 

Reference:    Guarneros M, Hummel T, Martínez-Gómez M, Hudson R., Mexico City Air Pollution Adversely Affects Olfactory Function and Intranasal Trigeminal Sensitivity, Chem Senses. 2009 Oct 9.

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