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Assessment of Upper Respiratory Tract and Ocular Irritative Effects of Volatile Chemicals in Humans

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Accurate assessment of upper respiratory tract and ocular irritation is critical for identifying and remedying problems related to overexposure to volatile chemicals, as well as for establishing parameters of irritation useful for regulatory purposes. This paper (a) describes the basic anatomy and physiology of the human upper respiratory tract and ocular mucosa, (b) discusses how airborne chemicals induce irritative sensations, and (c) reviews practical means employed for assessing such phenomena, including psychophysical (e.g., threshold and suprathreshold perceptual measures), physiological (e.g., cytology), electrophysiological (e.g., event-related potentials), and imaging (e.g., magnetic resonance imaging) techniques. Although traditionally animal models have been used as the first step in assessing such irritation, they are not addressed here since (a) there are numerous reviews available on this topic and (b) many rodents and rabbits are obligate nose breathers whose nasal passages differ considerably from those of humans, potentially limiting generalization of animal-based data to humans. A major goal of this compendium is to inform the reader of procedures for assessing irritation in humans and to provide information of value in the continued interpretation and development of empirical databases upon which future reasoned regulatory health decisions can be made.

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