Fluctuating olfactory sensitivity and distorted odor perception in allergic rhinitis

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 1999 Sep;125(9):1005-10. doi: 10.1001/archotol.125.9.1005.


Objective: To characterize the relationship between allergic rhinitis, the severity and duration of nasal disease, olfactory function, and self-reported olfactory symptoms, including fluctuations or distortions in odor perception.

Design: Assessment of olfactory function and symptoms of 90 patients with allergic rhinitis.

Setting: A clinic of a university teaching hospital and research facility.

Patients: Sixty patients who presented to the Taste and Smell Clinic who had positive allergy test results and 30 patients who presented to the Allergy-Immunology Clinic. The Taste and Smell Clinic patients were grouped by nasal-sinus disease status (30 without chronic rhinosinusitis or nasal polyps, 14 with chronic rhinosinusitis but without polyps, and 16 with nasal polyps).

Main outcome measures: Subjective olfactory symptom questionnaire and objective olfactory function tests.

Results: The Allergy-Immunology Clinic patients were diagnosed as being normosmic and the Taste and Smell Clinic patients as being hyposmic or anosmic with olfactory loss that increased significantly with nasal-sinus disease severity. Comparisons with normative data confirm that olfactory scores observed in all groups were significantly lower than expected because of the aging process alone. The self-reported duration of olfactory loss increased significantly with nasal-sinus disease severity. The Taste and Smell Clinic patients without chronic rhinosinusitis or nasal polyps reported the greatest incidence of olfactory distortions and olfactory loss associated with upper respiratory tract infections.

Conclusions: There appears to be a continuum of duration and severity of olfactory loss in allergic rhinitis that parallels increasing severity of nasal-sinus disease. As a result of the increased frequency of respiratory infection associated with allergic rhinitis, these patients are at risk for damage to the olfactory epithelium.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Polyps / diagnosis
  • Nasal Polyps / physiopathology
  • Nose Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Nose Neoplasms / physiopathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Perceptual Distortion / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Perennial / diagnosis*
  • Rhinitis, Allergic, Perennial / physiopathology
  • Sensory Thresholds / physiology
  • Sinusitis / diagnosis*
  • Sinusitis / physiopathology
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Taste Threshold / physiology