Clinical Trial, Phase II
Journal Article
Randomized Controlled Trial
Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
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Efficacy and Safety of Saline Nasal Irrigation Plus Theophylline for Treatment of COVID-19-Related Olfactory Dysfunction: The SCENT2 Phase 2 Randomized Clinical Trial.

IMPORTANCE: Recent studies suggest that theophylline added to saline nasal irrigation (SNI) can be an effective treatment for postviral olfactory dysfunction (OD), a growing public health concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.

OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the efficacy and safety of theophylline added to SNI compared with placebo for COVID-19-related OD.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: This triple-blinded, placebo-controlled, phase 2 randomized clinical trial was conducted virtually between March 15 and August 31, 2021. Adults residing in Missouri or Illinois were recruited during this time period if they had OD persisting for 3 to 12 months following suspected COVID-19 infection. Data analysis was conducted from October to December 2021.

INTERVENTIONS: Saline sinus rinse kits and bottles of identical-appearing capsules with either 400 mg of theophylline (treatment) or 500 mg of lactose powder (control) were mailed to consenting study participants. Participants were instructed to dissolve the capsule contents into the saline rinse and use the solution to irrigate their nasal cavities in the morning and at night for 6 weeks.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: The primary outcome was the difference in the rate of responders between the treatment and the control arms, defined as a response of at least slightly better improvement in the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale posttreatment. Secondary outcome measures included changes in the University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test (UPSIT), the Questionnaire for Olfactory Disorders, the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey on general health, and COVID-19-related questions.

RESULTS: A total of 51 participants were enrolled in the study; the mean (SD) age was 46.0 (13.1) years, and 36 (71%) participants were women. Participants were randomized to SNI with theophylline (n = 26) or to SNI with placebo (n = 25). Forty-five participants completed the study. At the end of treatment, 13 (59%) participants in the theophylline arm reported at least slight improvement in the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale (responders) compared with 10 (43%) in the placebo arm (absolute difference, 15.6%; 95% CI, -13.2% to 44.5%). The median difference for the UPSIT change between baseline and 6 weeks was 3.0 (95% CI, -1.0 to 7.0) for participants in the theophylline arm and 0.0 (95% CI, -2.0 to 6.0) for participants in the placebo arm. Mixed-model analysis revealed that the change in UPSIT scores through study assessments was not statistically significantly different between the 2 study arms. Eleven (50%) participants in the theophylline arm and 6 (26%) in the placebo arm had a change of 4 or more points in UPSIT scores from baseline to 6 weeks. The difference in the rate of responders as measured by the UPSIT was 24% (95% CI, -4% to 52%) in favor of theophylline.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: This randomized clinical trial suggests that the clinical benefit of theophylline nasal irrigations on olfaction in participants with COVID-19-related OD is inconclusive, though suggested by subjective assessments. Larger studies are warranted to investigate the efficacy of this treatment more fully.

TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04789499.

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