To determine whether olfactory loss affects patients' quality of life or level of disability.
Retrospective survey using questionnaire data and clinic database review.
Two university medical center smell and taste clinics.
A total of 1407 patients were tested for smell and taste disturbances from 1984 through 1998. Surveys were mailed to 1093 patients who had abnormal test scores; 420 (38.4%) returned completed surveys. Patients were grouped by self-rated ability to smell as "impaired" (those reporting persisting deficits) or "improved" (those reporting no smell problem when surveyed).
Main Outcome Measures
Response frequencies were compared between the 2 groups for questions regarding ability to perform common activities of daily living and quality-of-life issues.
Mean (±SD) number of activities of daily living affected by olfactory loss was 4.70 ± 3.56 for the impaired group and 0.61 ± 1.58 for the improved group (P<.001). Among specific activities, the most common cited impairments were ability to detect spoiled food (impaired vs improved groups, 75% vs 12%; P<.001), gas leaks (61% vs 8%; P<.001), or smoke (50% vs 1%; P<.001); eating (53% vs 12%; P<.001); and cooking (49% vs 12%; P<.001). Differences in quality-of-life issues were reported primarily in the areas of safety and eating. Overall satisfaction with life was reported by 87% of the improved group but only 50% of the impaired group (P<.001).
Patients reporting persistent olfactory impairment after previously documented olfactory loss indicate a higher level of disability and lower quality of life than those with perceived resolution of olfactory compromise.