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Variations of olfactory function with circadian timing and chronotype

Volume: 61 - Issue: 5

First page: 456 - Last page: 469

Y. Mai - M.C. Rosbach - T. Hummel

Background: Cumulative animal studies have suggested that olfaction can be regulated by circadian clock. However, human studies on the topic are relatively limited. The present study thus aimed to investigate diurnal variation in olfaction in healthy adults while examining potential modulating factors.
Methods: We conducted four rounds of testing on 56 healthy adults (32 women) aged 31 ± 12 years, throughout a single day, during morning (8:00-10:00 h), noon (12:00-14:00 h), afternoon (16:00-18:00 h), and evening (20:00-22:00 h). At the first appointment, participants completed full olfactory function testing using the Sniffin’ Sticks, questionnaires on medical history, nasal symptoms, sleep quality, and chronotype, and were assessed for blood pressure, heart rate, peak nasal inspiratory flow (PNIF), attention level, and rated their smell ability, nasal patency, wakefulness, and concentration level using visual analog scale (VAS) ratings. Subsequent appointments measured olfactory threshold, attentional level, PNIF, blood pressure, heart rate and VAS ratings repeatedly.
Results: Olfactory threshold (OT) scores varied significantly between different times of the day, with the highest score in the evening and the lowest in the morning. Similar differences were also observed in PNIF, with the highest value in the evening and the lowest in the morning. However, there were no significant correlations between OT score and PNIF across all four-time testing, as well as between differences in [OT evening – OT morning] and [PNIF evening – PNIF morning]. Furthermore, a generalized linear mixed model indicated that the testing time of the morning, evening chronotype, self-reported body mass index (BMI), rated smell ability, and rated nasal patency significantly predicted the Sniffin' Sticks OT score.
Conclusions: Olfactory function fluctuates throughout the waking hours of the day, with the highest olfactory sensitivity observed in the evening and the lowest in the morning. This pattern is also seen in nasal patency. However, it appears that the circadian changes of nasal airflow may not significantly depend on the circadian changes of the olfactory sensitivity. In addition, chronotype and BMI may regulate such olfactory-circadian variation. These findings provide important insights for future research on the accurate diagnosis and treatment of olfactory dysfunction.

Rhinology 61-5: 456-469, 2023

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