Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Environmental and Occupational Health

Major Professor

Stuart Brooks, M.D.


Allergy, Ethnicity, Exposure, Questionnaire, Sensitivity


Efforts to estimate the population prevalence of chemical sensitivities have been limited and have yielded different estimates of the prevalence of affected individuals. Researchers recognize that people differ in their biological susceptibility to environmental contaminants as well as the amount of contaminant to which they are potentially exposed. Lack of information on the population prevalence of people, who report sensitivity to a chemical or many chemicals, as well as variables associated, has been recognized in previous studies (Kreutzer et al., 1999). In a more recent report, Berg et al., in 2007 reported the prevalence and consequences related to inhalation of chemicals in a Danish population. They concluded that the symptoms related to inhalation of airborne chemicals were common, especially among women. A small part of that population reported that these symptoms affected social life or occupational conditions.

Details in prevalence on severity of symptoms caused by inhaled odors, chemicals and irritants have not been investigated comparing populations based on ethnical differences. These differences could influence how individuals report their symptoms. This study evaluated the differences between Americans and Hispanics in sensitivity and symptoms related to inhalation of strong odors, chemical and irritants. We also evaluated the differences between both ethnic groups on quality of life due to these symptoms. A cross-sectional descriptive study was conducted between December 2008 and March 2009. A self-administered questionnaire was distributed to a total of 290 adults and 205 were selected for the analysis. American and Hispanic individuals of 16 years old or more were included. The responses were cross-tabulated and comparisons between means were performed using t-test and ANOVA.

29.8% of study population reported being more sensitive than the average person and women reported more than men (75%). These findings were consistent with previous reported in the literature. The reaction more frequent reported was to cigarette smoke (60%). Statistically significant differences were identified between Americans and Hispanics regarding to sensitivity to chemicals, irritants, odors or strong fragrances and reaction to cigarette smoke when history of Allergy is present. Significant differences between both ethnic groups were detected with Lower Respiratory, Neuro-psychological and Non-specific symptoms; and Quality of life. These differences were disclosed when history of Allergy, smoking habit, used steroids or antibiotics within the last 4 weeks, and age were considered. Americans reported being more sensitive with exposure to recognized everyday irritants, react more to cigarette smoke and reported more Non-specific symptoms than Hispanics.

Hispanic smokers tend to report Lower Respiratory symptoms more than the Americans. Hispanics between 50 to 59 years old reported more Neuro-psychological symptoms than Americans. Quality of life was more affected among Americans if they are exposed to common irritants, when Allergy history and use of steroids or antibiotics were considered.