Olofsson JK, Ekesten F, Nordin S
Sci Rep 12 (1) 9776 [2022-06-13; online 2022-06-13]
Parosmia, distorted smell sensations, is a common consequence of respiratory virus infections. The phenomenon is not well understood in terms of its impact and long-term outcomes. We examined self-reported experiences of parosmia in a population-based sample from the Betula study that was conducted in Umeå in northern Sweden (baseline data collected in 1998-2000). We used a baseline sample of 2168 individuals aged 35-90 years and with no cognitive impairment at baseline. We investigated the prevalence of parosmia experiences and, using regression analyses, its relationship to other olfactory and cognitive variables and quality of life. Benefitting from the longitudinal study design, we also assessed the persistence of parosmia over 5 and 10 years prospectively. Parosmia experiences were prevalent in 4.8% of the population and it often co-occurred with phantosmia ("olfactory hallucinations"), but was not associated with lower self-rated overall quality of life or poor performance on olfactory or cognitive tests. For some individuals, parosmia was retained 5 years (17.0%) or even 10 years later (10.3%). Thus, parosmia experiences are commonly reported in the population, and can be persistent for some individuals, but might be mostly benign in nature. Our work complements research on clinical-level parosmia, which is typically more severe, and recent parosmia reports during the COVID-19 pandemic, where long-term outcomes are still unknown.