Unsupervised Clustering of Olfactory Phenotypes

Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2022 Nov;36(6):796-803. doi: 10.1177/19458924221114255. Epub 2022 Jul 15.


Background: Current clinical classifications of olfactory function are based primarily upon a percentage of correct answers in olfactory identification testing. This simple classification provides little insight into etiologies of olfactory loss, associated comorbidities, or impact on the quality of life (QOL).

Methods: Community-based subjects underwent olfactory psychophysical testing using Sniffin Sticks to measure threshold (T), discrimination (D), and identification (I). The cognitive screening was performed using Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE). Unsupervised clustering was performed based upon T, D, I, and MMSE. Post hoc differences in demographics, comorbidities, and QOL measures were assessed.

Results: Clustering of 219 subjects, mean age 51 years (range 20-93 years) resulted in 4 unique clusters. Cluster 1 was the largest and predominantly younger normosmics. Cluster 2 had the worst olfaction with impairment in nearly all aspects of olfaction and decreased MMSE scores. This cluster had higher rates of smoking, heart disease, and cancer and had the worst olfactory-specific QOL. Cluster 3 had normal MMSE with relative preservation of D and I, but severely impaired T. This cluster had higher rates of smoking and heart disease with moderately impaired QOL. Cluster 4 was notable for the worst MMSE scores, but general preservation of D and I with moderate loss of T. This cluster had higher rates of Black subjects, diabetes, and viral/traumatic olfactory loss.

Conclusion: Unsupervised clustering based upon detailed olfactory testing and cognitive testing results in clinical phenotypes with unique risk factors and QOL impacts. These clusters may provide additional information regarding etiologies and subsequent therapies to treat olfactory loss.

Keywords: cluster analysis; olfaction; phenotype.

MeSH terms

  • Cluster Analysis
  • Heart Diseases*
  • Humans
  • Olfaction Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Olfaction Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Phenotype
  • Quality of Life
  • Smell