Monday, March 15, 2004
Va. – Patients who have total or partial loss of their olfactory sense – the
ability to smell – are more likely to experience hazardous events than people
with normal olfactory function, according to a new study by researchers in the
Smell and Taste Clinic at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical
study, published in the March issue of Archives of Otolaryngology Head and Neck
Surgery, found 37 percent of patients with olfactory impairment experienced at
least one olfactory-related hazardous event, compared with 19 percent of
patients with normal olfactory function.
reviewed 767 medical records from the Smell and Taste Clinic and identified 445
patients that had undergone olfactory function testing between 1983 and 2001. Of
those, 340 had a confirmed olfactory impairment. Based on a hazard review
questionnaire given during their evaluation, 124 patients indicated they had
experienced a cooking-related accident, been exposed to an undetected fire or
gas leak, or ingested spoiled food or a toxic substance.
impairment has long been overlooked as a debilitating condition or public health
problem,“ said Evan Reiter, M.D., an otolaryngologist and head and neck
surgeon in the Smell and Taste Clinic at VCU. “These findings indicate serious
and potentially life threatening circumstances that collectively pose a
significant public health risk.”
accidents were the most frequently experienced hazardous events, accounting for
45 percent of the incidents, followed by spoiled food and toxic substance
ingestion – 25 percent, and gas leaks or fires that went undetected – 23 and
7 percent respectively.
people don’t even recognize they have an olfactory problem, until something
happens that draws attention to it,“ said Richard Costanzo, Ph.D., a VCU
neurophysiologist, who has done extensive research on the regeneration of
olfactory nerves. “One person with
olfactory loss ingested a glass of jewelry cleaner thinking it was water.”
impairment occurs when the delicate olfactory nerves at the base of the brain,
or other smell receptor sites become damaged, as a result of head trauma,
chronic sinusitis, viral infections, nasal obstructions, some medications, or
even aging. In many cases, olfactory function never returns. And while function
may return for some, the signals going to the brain may be altered, distorting
and making unpleasant once familiar smells and tastes.
of the first things patients notice when they lose their sense of smell, is they
can no longer taste their food – even though their taste nerves may be working
just fine – they are no longer able to appreciate the aromas of the foods they
are eating,” said Costanzo.
a result, poor nutrition often is another consequence of olfactory dysfunction.
Costanzo adds, patients report they eat less, or they eat less healthy food
because the foods they once enjoyed no longer taste the same or have no taste at
all. “It’s not unusual to see patients with olfactory impairment who have
lost significant amounts of weight.”
medical advances in better understanding the olfactory system and disorders
associated with it, treatment options remain limited. Costanzo is hopeful his
research aimed at understanding how the olfactory nerves regenerate, or recover
from injury, may someday lead to new treatments for olfactory disorders.
there isn’t a magic cure. Some causes of olfactory loss are treatable, many
are not – regardless, patients need to be properly evaluated and counseled
because there are things they can do to cope with their condition,” Reiter
said. “The most important thing physicians can do is make patients aware of
their limitations and the consequences that can occur as a result of their
study authors also include Daniel Santos, M.D., and Laurence DiNardo, M.D. with
VCU’s Smell and Taste Clinic.
About VCU and VCU Medical Center
Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.