General Management Goals

Patients with complaints of olfactory dysfunction, regardless of etiology or anatomical localization, should receive careful sensory and neurological testing to ensure accurate categorization of both their sensory problem and, ideally, its physiological basis. In patients in whom anosmia or hyposmia is caused by airway blockage, treatment to relieve the edema or physical obstruction can be undertaken with optimism. Examples of treatments that have restored such function include allergic management, topical and systemic corticosteriod therapies, antibiotic therapy, and various surgical interventions. In cases in which tumors are the cause of the problem, their removal with the goal in mind of maintaining the integrity of the olfactory pathways can sometimes restore olfactory function. For patients with dysosmia, a careful review and systematic cessation of drugs that are potentially associated with the dysfunction may be fruitful in some instances, although this process can take several months, depending on the mode of action of the drugs involved and the number of medications being taken by the patient. In rare cases of long-term chronic dysosmia severe enough to produce depression, weight loss, or nausea because of the perversion of food flavor, surgical intervention may be indicated. If the dysosmia is unilateral (detected by blocking the flow of air to one side of the nose or by anesthetizing the olfactory membrane unilaterally), unilateral surgical intervention may correct the problem while sparing olfactory function on the contralateral side. Of the surgical approaches, intranasal ablation or stripping of tissue from the olfactory epithelium on the affected side is more conservative and less invasive than removing the olfactory bulb or tract through a craniotomy. Should the dysosmia reappear after such surgery, additional intranasal ablations may be performed.

Treatment of patients with anosmia due to sensorineural problems is challenging. Although there are a few advocates of zinc and vitamin therapies, sound empirical evidence of their efficacy is lacking. In patients in whom olfactory loss has been present for a long period of time and can be attributed to neural damage within the olfactory neuroepithelium, prognosis is poor, and no treatment is possible. Nevertheless, simply providing such patients with accurate information about their disorder, establishing objectively the degree and nature of the deficit, and ruling out the possibility of a serious disorder as the cause of the problem can diminish anxiety and may be very therapeutic. Because half of elderly persons with permanent olfactory loss are at or above the fiftieth percentile of their norm group, these individuals can be informed that while their olfactory function is below what it used to be, they still are outperforming most of their peers. This knowledge is extremely therapeutic and helps them place the natural age-related loss of olfactory function in a broader perspective.

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