Prevalence and Magnitude of Olfactory Dysfunction in Allergic Rhinitis

Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2024 May 17:19458924241253642. doi: 10.1177/19458924241253642. Online ahead of print.


Background: Although allergic rhinitis (AR) can negatively impact the ability to smell, the degree to which this occurs is not clear and prevalence estimates vary among studies. This study had 4 main objectives: (1) To estimate the prevalence and the degree of olfactory dysfunction in AR patients; (2) To compare olfactory perception between AR patients with different persistence and severity of symptoms and determine if olfactory testing may aid in differentiating among Allergic Rhinitis and its Impact on Asthma (ARIA) groups; (3) To determine whether allergic reactions to different allergens differentially impact olfactory function, and (4) Verify possible changes in the olfactory epithelium (OE) caused by AR.

Methods: One hundred thirty-three patients with AR and one hundred controls were tested. The main outcome was the score in University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT®). The OE was examined using immunofluorescence markers for neuronal activity, apoptosis, oxidative stress, signal transduction, eosinophils, and epithelial thickness.

Results: Prevalence of olfactory dysfunction in the AR patients was higher (AR: 42.9% vs controls: 9%, P < .001). No difference was found either between intermittent and persistent disease cases (P = .58) or between cases with mild and those with moderate/severe symptomatology (P = .33). Lower olfactory capacity was not associated with the reaction to more (P = .48) or diverse types of allergens (Ps > .05). Although not significant, patients with AR had a greater amount of eosinophilia and a lower amount of cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate) in the OE.

Conclusion: The study highlights a higher prevalence of olfactory dysfunction in AR patients compared to controls, but olfactory testing may not effectively differentiate AR severity or allergen sensitivities. Although trends suggest potential pathophysiological changes in the OE of AR patients, further research is needed to validate these findings.

Keywords: allergens; disease severity; eosinophils; microsmia; olfaction; olfactory dysfunction; olfactory epithelium; prevalence; rhinitis; smell perception.