Objectives/hypothesis: The study aimed to investigate the potential therapeutic effects of alpha-lipoic acid in olfactory loss following infections of the upper respiratory tract. Possible mechanisms of actions include the release of nerve growth factor and antioxidative effects, both of which may be helpful in the regeneration of olfactory receptor neurons.
Study design: Unblinded, prospective clinical trial.
Methods: A total of 23 patients participated (13 women, 10 men; mean age 57 y, age range 22-79 y; mean duration of olfactory loss, 14 mo; range, 4 to 33 mo); 19 of them were hyposmic and 4 had functional anosmia. Alpha-lipoic acid was used orally at a dose of 600 mg/day; it was prescribed for an average period of 4.5 months. Olfactory function was assessed using olfactory tests for phenyl ethyl alcohol odor threshold, odor discrimination, and odor identification.
Results: Seven patients (30%) showed no change in olfactory function. Two patients (9%) exhibited a moderate decrease in olfactory function; in contrast, six patients (26%) showed moderate and eight patients (35%) remarkable increase in olfactory function. Two of the 4 patients with functional anosmia reached hyposmia; 5 of 19 hyposmic patients became normosmic. Overall, this resulted in a significant improvement in olfactory function following treatment (P =.002). At the end of treatment parosmias were less frequent (22%) than at the beginning of therapy (48%). Interestingly, recovery of olfactory function appeared to be more pronounced in younger patients than in patients above the age of 60 years (P =.018).
Conclusions: The results indicate that alpha-lipoic acid may be helpful in patients with olfactory loss after upper respiratory tract infection. However, to judge the true potential of this treatment, the outcome of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in large groups of patients must be awaited, especially when considering the relatively high rate of spontaneous recovery in olfactory loss after upper respiratory tract infection.