Neuroradiological Basis of COVID-19 Olfactory Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Laryngoscope. 2022 Jun;132(6):1260-1274. doi: 10.1002/lary.30078. Epub 2022 Mar 22.


Objective: Olfactory dysfunction (OD) is a common presenting symptom of COVID-19 infection. Radiological imaging of the olfactory structures in patients with COVID-19 and OD can potentially shed light on its pathogenesis, and guide clinicians in prognostication and intervention.

Methods: PubMed, Embase, Cochrane, SCOPUS were searched from inception to August 1, 2021. Three reviewers selected observational studies, case series, and case reports reporting radiological changes in the olfactory structures, detected on magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography, or other imaging modalities, in patients aged ≥18 years with COVID-19 infection and OD, following preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses guidelines and a PROSPERO-registered protocol (CRD42021275211). We described the proportion of radiological outcomes, and used random-effects meta-analyses to pool the prevalence of olfactory cleft opacification, olfactory bulb signal abnormalities, and olfactory mucosa abnormalities in patients with and without COVID-19-associated OD.

Results: We included 7 case-control studies (N = 353), 11 case series (N = 154), and 12 case reports (N = 12). The pooled prevalence of olfactory cleft opacification in patients with COVID-19 infection and OD (63%, 95% CI = 0.38-0.82) was significantly higher than that in controls (4%, 95% CI = 0.01-0.13). Conversely, similar proportions of cases and controls demonstrated olfactory bulb signal abnormalities (88% and 94%) and olfactory mucosa abnormalities (2% and 0%). Descriptive analysis found that 55.6% and 43.5% of patients with COVID-19 infection and OD had morphological abnormalities of the olfactory bulb and olfactory nerve, respectively, while 60.0% had abnormal olfactory bulb volumes.

Conclusion: Our findings implicate a conductive mechanism of OD, localized to the olfactory cleft, in approximately half of the affected COVID-19 patients. Laryngoscope, 132:1260-1274, 2022.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; anosmia; imaging; olfactory; radiology; smell.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • COVID-19* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders* / diagnostic imaging
  • Olfaction Disorders* / etiology
  • Olfactory Bulb / diagnostic imaging
  • Olfactory Mucosa
  • Smell