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Clinical and Imaging Evaluation of COVID-19-Related Olfactory Dysfunction.

BACKGROUND: Olfactory dysfunction has been reported in 47.85% of COVID patients. It can be broadly categorized into conductive or sensorineural olfactory loss. Conductive loss occurs due to impaired nasal air flow, while sensorineural loss implies dysfunction of the olfactory epithelium or central olfactory pathways.

OBJECTIVES: The aim of this study was to analyze the clinical and imaging findings in patients with COVID-related olfactory dysfunction. Additionally, the study aimed to investigate the possible mechanisms of COVID-related olfactory dysfunction.

METHODS: The study included 110 patients with post-COVID-19 olfactory dysfunction, and a control group of 50 COVID-negative subjects with normal olfactory function. Endoscopic nasal examination was performed for all participants with special focus on the olfactory cleft. Smell testing was performed for all participants by using a smell diskettes test. Olfactory pathway magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was done to assess the condition of the olfactory cleft and the dimensions and volume of the olfactory bulb.

RESULTS: Olfactory dysfunction was not associated with nasal symptoms in 51.8% of patients. MRI showed significantly increased olfactory bulb dimensions and volume competed to controls. Additionally, it revealed olfactory cleft edema in 57.3% of patients. On the other hand, radiological evidence of sinusitis was detected in only 15.5% of patients.

CONCLUSION: The average olfactory bulb volumes were significantly higher in the patients' group compared to the control group, indicating significant edema and swelling in the olfactory bulb in patients with COVID-related olfactory dysfunction. Furthermore, in most patients, no sinonasal symptoms such as nasal congestion or rhinorrhea were reported, and similarly, no radiological evidence of sinusitis was detected. Consequently, the most probable mechanism of COVID-related olfactory dysfunction is sensorineural loss through virus spread and damage to the olfactory epithelium and pathways.

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