Variables associated with olfactory disorders in adults: A U.S. population-based analysis

World J Otorhinolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2017 Mar 6;3(1):9-16. doi: 10.1016/j.wjorl.2017.02.005. eCollection 2017 Mar.


Objective: Olfactory dysfunction is known to have significant social, psychological, and safety implications. Despite increasingly recognized prevalence, potential risk factors for olfactory loss have been arbitrarily documented and knowledge is limited in scale. The aim of this study is to identify potential demographic and exposure variables correlating with olfactory dysfunction.

Methods: Cross-sectional analysis of the 2011-2012 and 2013-2014 editions of the National Health Examination and Nutrition Survey was performed. The utilized survey reports from a nationally representative sample of about 5000 persons each year located in counties across the United States. There is an interview and physical examination component which includes demographic, socioeconomic, dietary, and health-related questions as well as medical, dental, physiologic measurements, and laboratory tests. 3594 adult respondents from 2011 to 2012 and 3708 respondents from 2013 to 2014 were identified from the above population-based database. The frequency of self-reported disorders as well as performance on odor identification testing was determined in relation to demographic factors, occupational or environmental exposures, and urinary levels of environmental and industrial compounds.

Results: In both subjective and objective analysis, smell disorders were significantly more common with increasing age. While the non-Hispanic Black and non-Hispanic Asian populations were less likely to report subjective olfactory loss, they, along with Hispanics, performed more poorly on odor identification than Caucasians. Those with limited education had a decreased prevalence of hyposmia. Women outperformed men on smell testing. Those reporting exposure to vapors were more likely to experience olfactory dysfunction, and urinary levels of manganese, 2-Thioxothiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid, and 2-Aminothiazoline-4-carboxylic acid were lower among respondents with subjective smell disturbance. In odor detection, elevated serum levels of lead and urinary levels of 2,4 dichlorophenol were associated with anosmia and hyposmia, respectively.

Conclusions: This study provides current, population-based data identifying demographic and exposure elements related to smell disturbances in U.S. adults. Age, race, gender, education, exposure to vapors, urinary levels of manganese, 2-Thioxothiazolidine-4-carboxylic acid, 2-Aminothiazoline-4-carboxylic acid, 2,4 dichlorophenol, and serum lead levels were all implicated in smell disturbance. Care should be taken in interpretation due to lack of consistency between subjective and objective measures of olfaction as well as limitations related to population-based data. Prospective trials are indicated to further elucidate these relationships.

Keywords: Olfaction; Olfactory dysfunction; Olfactory loss; Population based study; Risk factors; Smell loss.