Olfactory dysfunction from acute upper respiratory infections: relationship to season of onset

Int Forum Allergy Rhinol. 2020 Jun;10(6):706-712. doi: 10.1002/alr.22551. Epub 2020 Apr 13.


Background: Acute viral upper respiratory tract infections are the most common cause of chronic olfactory dysfunction. In light of the seasonality of numerous viruses, the question arises as to whether the frequency and magnitude of postviral olfactory disorders (PVODs) are similarly seasonal. We sought to determine whether olfactory deficits due to influenza and non-influenza-related viruses (I-PVODs and NI-PVODs) vary in frequency or magnitude across seasons in a North American population and whether they are more prevalent or produce more severe olfactory dysfunction during colder months when host susceptibility may be increased.

Methods: This was a retrospective study of 587 patients presenting to an academic smell and taste center with either I-PVOD-related or NI-PVOD-related olfactory deficits. Chi-square and analysis of covariance (age = covariate) compared dysfunction prevalence frequencies and scores on the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT) across calendar months and between months with the coldest and warmest air temperatures.

Results: For I-PVOD-related cases, both the prevalence and magnitude of smell dysfunction were highest in the colder months. However, for NI-PVOD-related cases, prevalence was higher in warmer months but, paradoxically, the magnitude of dysfunction was higher in colder months.

Conclusion: This study shows that seasonal variations occur in both the prevalence and magnitude of PVOD-related olfactory deficits in a North American population, and that such variations differ between NI-PVOD and I-PVOD cases. The findings suggest multiple viruses are involved in producing PVOD-related olfactory deficits.

Keywords: UPSIT; influenza; olfaction; postviral olfactory disorder; seasonality; upper respiratory infections; viruses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Olfaction Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Seasons
  • Temperature
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology*