Marked olfactory impairment in idiopathic intracranial hypertension

Eric M. Bershad, Mian Z. Urfy, Eusebia Calvillo, Rosa A. Tang, Christian Cajavilca, Andrew G. Lee, Chethan P. Venkatasubba Rao, Jose I. Suarez, Denise Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Objective: Many long-duration astronauts develop signs of elevated intracranial pressure and have neuroophthalmological findings similar to idiopathic intracranial hypertension (IIH) patients. Some also present with nasal congestion and subjective olfactory impairment. We prospectively evaluated olfactory function in IIH patients and the effect of 6° head-down tilt, which simulates the headward fluid shifting in microgravity, as spaceflight analogues. Design: Olfaction was tested for all subjects in upright and 6° head-down tilt positions using two different measures: University of Pennsylvania Smell Identification Test and Olfactory Threshold Sniffin' Sticks with phenylethyl alcohol. Results: IIH patients (n=19) had significant impairment on both olfactory measures compared with matched controls (n=19). The olfactory threshold dilution levels were 9.07 (95% CI 1.85 to 5.81) and 3.83 (95% CI 7.04 to 11.10), p=0.001, and smell identification scores were 35.61 (95% CI 34.03 to 37.18) and 32.47 (95% CI 30.85 to 34.09), p=0.008, for control and IIH subjects, respectively. The threshold detection was mildly impaired in head-down tilt compared with upright position in the combined subjects (6.05 (95% CI 4.58 to 7.51) vs 6.85 (95% CI 5.43 to 8.27), p=0.004). Conclusions: We demonstrated that IIH patients have marked impairment in olfactory threshold levels, out of proportion to smell identification impairment. There was also impairment in olfactory threshold in head-down tilt compared with upright positioning, but not for smell identification. The underlying mechanisms for olfactory threshold dysfunction in IIH patients need further exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)959-964
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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