Normal olfaction provides essential cues to allow early detection and avoidance of potentially hazardous situations. Thus, patients with impaired olfaction may be at increased risk of experiencing certain hazardous events such as cooking or house fires, delayed detection of gas leaks, and exposure to or ingestion of toxic substances.
To identify risk factors and potential trends over time in olfactory-related hazardous events in patients with impaired olfactory function.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Retrospective cohort study of 1047 patients presenting to a university smell and taste clinic between 1983 and 2013. A total of 704 patients had both clinical olfactory testing and a hazard interview and were studied. On the basis of olfactory function testing results, patients were categorized as normosmic (n = 161), mildly hyposmic (n = 99), moderately hyposmic (n = 93), severely hyposmic (n = 142), and anosmic (n = 209).
Patient evaluation including interview, examination, and olfactory testing.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Incidence of specific olfaction-related hazardous events (ie, burning pots and/or pans, starting a fire while cooking, inability to detect gas leaks, inability to detect smoke, and ingestion of toxic substances or spoiled foods) by degree of olfactory impairment.
The incidence of having experienced any hazardous event progressively increased with degree of impairment: normosmic (18.0%), mildly hyposmic (22.2%), moderately hyposmic (31.2%), severely hyposmic (32.4%), and anosmic (39.2%). Over 3 decades there was no significant change in the overall incidence of hazardous events. Analysis of demographic data (age, sex, race, smoking status, and etiology) revealed significant differences in the incidence of hazardous events based on age (among 397 patients <65 years, 148 [37.3%] with hazardous event, vs 31 of 146 patients ≥65 years [21.3%]; P < .001), sex (among 278 women, 106 [38.1%] with hazardous event, vs 73 of 265 men [27.6%]; P = .009), and race (among 98 African Americans, 41 [41.8%] with hazardous event, vs 134 of 434 whites [30.9%]; P = .04).
Conclusions and Relevance
Increased level of olfactory impairment portends an increased risk of experiencing a hazardous event. Risk is further impacted by individuals’ age, sex, and race. These results may assist health care practitioners in counseling patients on the risks associated with olfactory impairment.