Recovery of olfactory function following closed head injury or infections of the upper respiratory tract

Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2006 Mar;132(3):265-9. doi: 10.1001/archotol.132.3.265.


Objective: To investigate the outcome of olfactory function in patients with olfactory loss following infections of the upper respiratory tract (post-URTI) or head trauma.

Design: Retrospective patient-based study.

Setting: Smell and Taste Outpatient Clinic at a university hospital.

Patients: A total of 361 patients (228 women, 133 men) were included.

Main outcome measures: Olfactory function was assessed using the "Sniffin' Sticks" test battery, which result in a threshold, discrimination, and identification score. The mean interval between first and last visit was 14 months.

Results: In comparing the overall threshold, discrimination, and identification scores between the last and first visit, olfactory function improved in 26% of the patients whereas it decreased in 6%. The cause of olfactory impairment had a significant effect on the recovery rate of olfactory function. Within the post-URTI group (n = 262), 32% of the patients improved, but in the posttraumatic group (n = 99) only 10% improved. In patients with post-URTI olfactory loss, a negative correlation was found between age and recovery of olfactory function. In general, the factor "sex" had no significant effect on recovery of smell function.

Conclusions: To our knowledge, the series of patients presented herein is the largest in the literature to date in which standardized testing methods were used to assess the progression of impaired olfaction. It showed that the rate of improvement of olfactory function was significantly higher in patients with post-URTI dysosmia compared with patients with posttraumatic dysosmia. During an observation period of approximately 1 year, more than 30% of patients with post-URTI olfactory loss experienced improvement, whereas only 10% of patients with posttraumatic olfactory loss experienced improvement. Furthermore, age plays a significant role in the recovery of olfactory function.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Head Injuries, Closed / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / physiopathology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Time Factors