Impact of olfactory impairment on quality of life and disability

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2001 May;127(5):497-503. doi: 10.1001/archotol.127.5.497.


Objective: To determine whether olfactory loss affects patients' quality of life or level of disability.

Design: Retrospective survey using questionnaire data and clinic database review.

Setting: Two university medical center smell and taste clinics.

Patients: A total of 1407 patients were tested for smell and taste disturbances from 1984 through 1998. Surveys were mailed to 1093 patients who had abnormal test scores; 420 (38.4%) returned completed surveys. Patients were grouped by self-rated ability to smell as "impaired" (those reporting persisting deficits) or "improved" (those reporting no smell problem when surveyed).

Main outcome measures: Response frequencies were compared between the 2 groups for questions regarding ability to perform common activities of daily living and quality-of-life issues.

Results: Mean (+/-SD) number of activities of daily living affected by olfactory loss was 4.70 +/- 3.56 for the impaired group and 0.61 +/- 1.58 for the improved group (P < .001). Among specific activities, the most common cited impairments were ability to detect spoiled food (impaired vs improved groups, 75% vs 12%; P < .001), gas leaks (61% vs 8%; P < .001), or smoke (50% vs 1%; P < .001); eating (53% vs 12%; P < .001); and cooking (49% vs 12%; P < .001). Differences in quality-of-life issues were reported primarily in the areas of safety and eating. Overall satisfaction with life was reported by 87% of the improved group but only 50% of the impaired group (P < .001).

Conclusions: Patients reporting persistent olfactory impairment after previously documented olfactory loss indicate a higher level of disability and lower quality of life than those with perceived resolution of olfactory compromise.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Ageusia / etiology*
  • Ageusia / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Olfaction Disorders / complications*
  • Olfaction Disorders / physiopathology
  • Olfaction Disorders / psychology*
  • Quality of Life*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Surveys and Questionnaires