Does imaging of the olfactory tract change the clinical management of patients with olfactory disturbance? A case series of 100 consecutive patients

J Laryngol Otol. 2014 Sep;128(9):810-3. doi: 10.1017/S0022215114001625. Epub 2014 Aug 27.


Background: Isolated olfactory dysfunction is a common complaint; the vast majority of cases are benign and untreatable. A common dilemma is whether to image the olfactory tract of affected patients.

Methods: A case review of 100 consecutive patients who underwent magnetic resonance imaging for the primary complaint of olfactory dysfunction was performed. Patients with a diagnosis of chronic rhinosinusitis, with or without nasal polyps, were excluded.

Results: Magnetic resonance imaging abnormalities that were considered clinically relevant to the presentation of olfactory dysfunction were found in only seven patients (7 per cent). Of these, only one patient (1 per cent) had an abnormality found that altered their clinical management. A comparison of the findings for children (less than 16 years old, n = 5) with those for adults (equal to or more than 16 years old, n = 95) revealed that 4 per cent of adults scanned had olfactory-related pathology diagnosed, as opposed to 60 per cent of children.

Conclusion: Cross-sectional imaging may not be necessary in most patients with olfactory dysfunction. Imaging adds little to the patient history and clinical examination findings.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasal Polyps / diagnosis
  • Olfaction Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Olfaction Disorders / etiology*
  • Olfactory Bulb
  • Sinusitis / diagnosis
  • Young Adult