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December 1988

Olfactory Sensitivity, Nasal Resistance, and Autonomic Function in Patients With Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Author Affiliations

From the Smell and Taste Center, Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Human Communication, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Dr Shapiro is now with the New York Eye and Ear Hospital.

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1988;114(12):1422-1427. doi:10.1001/archotol.1988.01860240072027

• A frequent, if not predominant, complaint of persons reporting symptoms of multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) is that of heightened sensitivity to smells. In this study odor detection thresholds for phenyl ethyl alcohol (a major component of rose oil) and methyl ethyl ketone (a common solvent) were measured in 18 persons exhibiting symptoms of MCS and in 18 matched normal controls. In addition, nasal resistance, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration rate were determined before and after the olfactory tests. Scores on the Beck Depression Inventory were obtained prior to testing. Although olfactory thresholds were equivalent in the two study groups, the MCS group evidenced significantly higher nasal resistances, respiration rates and Beck Depression Inventory scores. Decreases in systolic blood pressure and pulse were noted in both groups across the test sessions. These results do not support the hypothesis that MCS is associated with greater olfactory threshold sensitivity (at least to the two target chemicals), but do suggest that MCS is associated with depression, increased respiration rate, and decreased nasal airway patency.

(Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 1988;114:1422-1427)