Original article

Scand J Work Environ Health 2006;32(2):109-210    pdf

doi:10.5271/sjweh.986

Salivary cortisol and self-reported stress among persons with environmental annoyance

by Carlsson F, Persson R, Karlson B, Österberg K, Hansen ÅM, Garde AH, Ørbæk P

Objectives Increased vulnerability to stress has been suggested as a possible mechanism behind medically unexplained conditions such as sensitivity to electricity and common smells. This study examined whether subjective environmental annoyance among the general population is associated with increased physiological reactivity or subjective stress scores.

Methods Four groups were studied (N=141): an electrically annoyed (N=17), a smell-annoyed (N=29), and a generally annoyed group (N=39) and a reference group matched for age, gender, and socioeconomic status (N=56). Over 5 days, the participants collected saliva for cortisol determination at awakening, 30 minutes after awakening, 8 hours after awakening, and at 9 o’clock in the evening. On the evening preceding the fifth day, the participants ingested a 0.5-mg dexamethasone tablet so that possible differential suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis could be assessed. Each day, the participants also rated their subjective stress and health complaints.

Results No significant differences were found between the groups regarding cortisol secretion over 5 days. The dexamethasone suppression test showed inhibited cortisol secretion in all four groups. No associations were found between the cortisol concentrations and the self-reported stress scores or subjective health complaints.

Conclusions Although the environmentally annoyed groups showed no signs of increased HPA-axis activation, being annoyed by both electrical devices and smells seems to be related to increased psychological activation in terms of self-reported stress. Because the participants were otherwise healthy and recruited from the general population, the results imply that subtle psychological stress processes may be important in the early development of environmental annoyance.

This article refers to the following text of the Journal: 2004;30(6):486-496
The following article refers to this text: 2006;2 suppl 2:15-21