Organic solvent exposure and contrast sensitivity: comparing men and women

The goal of this study was to compare the visual contrast sensitivity (CS) of men and women exposed and not exposed to organic solvents. Forty-six volunteers of both genders aged between 18 and 41 years (mean±SD=27.72±6.28) participated. Gas station attendants were exposed to gas containing 46.30 ppm of solvents at a temperature of 304±274.39 K, humidity of 62.25±7.59% and ventilation of 0.69±0.46 m/s (a passive gas chromatography-based sampling method was used considering the microclimate variables). Visual CS was measured via the psychophysical method of two-alternative forced choice using vertical sinusoidal gratings with spatial frequencies of 0.2, 0.5, 1.0, 2.0, 5.0, 10.0, and 16.0 cpd (cycles per degree) and an average luminance of 34.4 cd/m2. The results showed that visual CS was significantly lower (P<0.05) in the following groups: i) exposed men compared to unexposed men at frequencies of 0.2, 0.5, 1.0, and 2.0 cpd; ii) exposed women compared to unexposed women at a frequency of 5.0 cpd; and iii) exposed women compared to exposed men at a frequency of 0.5 cpd, even at exposures below the tolerance limit (300 ppm). These results suggest that the visual CS of exposed men was impaired over a wider range of spatial frequencies than that of exposed women. This difference may have been due to the higher body fat content of women compared to that of men, suggesting that body fat in women can serve as a protective factor against neurotoxic effects.