Correlation between olfactory function, trigeminal sensitivity, and nasal anatomy in healthy subjects



Few studies have investigated the correlation between chemosensory function (trigeminal and olfactory) and nasal volume in humans, even though nasal anatomy is crucial for the sense of smell. Aim of this study was to evaluate these correlations in normosmic subjects.


Two hundred and fifty-six healthy volunteers (age range 19–69 years) participated. Olfactory function was investigated for (the rose-like) phenylethyl alcohol odor threshold and odor identification (OI) using the Sniffin’ Sticks test, while nasal structure was evaluated by acoustic rhinometry (AR); trigeminal sensitivity was assessed in terms of detection “thresholds” for the odorless carbon dioxide (CO2).


There were negative correlations between olfactory sensitivity at threshold level and minimum cross-sectional area (MCSA) in both nostrils. No significant correlations were found between OI and nasal anatomy. Similar to olfactory sensitivity, with regard to the trigeminal stimulus CO2 for the right nostril subjects were the more sensitive the smaller the MCSA.


The current results emphasize the significance of nasal anatomy for trigeminal/olfactory threshold perception. Interestingly, correlations were not found between suprathreshold odor identification and nasal anatomy. Other than odor identification, odor thresholds appear to depend on subtle differences in nasal anatomy.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Youngentob SL, Stern NM, Mozell MM, Leopold DA, Hornung DE (1986) Effect of airway resistance on perceived odor intensity. Am J Otolaryngol 7(3):187–193

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Eccles R (2000) Nasal airflow in health and disease. Acta Otolaryngol 120(5):580–595

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Eccles R, Jaward MSM, Morris S (1989) Olfactory and trigeminal threshold and nasal resistance to airflow. Acta Otolarygol 108(3–4):268–273

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Hornung DE, Chin C, Kurtz DB, Kent PF, Mozell MM (1997) Effect of nasal dilators on perceived odor intensity. Chem Senses 22(2):177–180

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Leopold DA (1988) The relationship between nasal anatomy and human olfaction. Laryngoscope 98(11):1232–1238

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hornung DE, Leopold DA (1999) Relationship between uninasal anatomy and intranasal ability. Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 125(1):53–58

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Damm M, Vent J, Schmidt M, Theissen P, Eckel HE, Lötsch J, Hummel T (2002) Intranasal volume and olfactory function. Chem Senses 27:831–839

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Hong SC, Leopold DA, Oliviero PJ, Benson ML, Mellitis D, Quaskey SA, Zinreich SJ (1998) Relation between CT scan finding and human sense of smell. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 118(2):183–186

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Stone H, Rebert CS (1970) Observations on trigeminal olfactory interactions. Brain Res 21(1):138–142

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Schaefer ML, Böttger B, Silver WL, Finger TE (2002) Trigeminal collaterals in the nasal epithelium and olfactory bulb: a potential route for direct modulation of olfactory information by trigeminal stimuli. J Comp Neurol 444(3):221–226

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Trembley C, Frasnelli J (2018) Olfactory and trigeminal systems interact in the periphery. Chem Senses 43(8):611–616

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Konstantinidis I, Gartz I, Gerber JC, Reden J, Hummel T (2010) Anatomy of the nasal cavity determines intranasal trigeminal sensitivity. Rhinology 48:18–22

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Hummel T, Sekinger B, Wolf SR, Pauli E, Kobal G (1997) ‘Sniffin’ sticks’: olfactory performance assessed by the combined testing of odor identification, odor discrimination and olfactory threshold. Chem Senses 22(1):39–52

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Hummel T, Kobal G, Gudziol H, Mackay-Sim A (2007) Normative data for the “Sniffin’ Sticks” including tests of odor identification, odor discrimination, and olfactory thresholds: anupgrade based on a group of more than 3000 subjects. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol Suppl 264(3):237–243

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Klimek L, Hummel T, Moll B, Kobal G, Mann WJ (1998) Lateralized and bilateral olfactory function in patients with chronic sinusitis compared with healthy control subjects. Laryngoscope 108:111–114

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Kobal G, Klimek L, Wolfensberger M, Gudziol H, Temmel A, Owen CM, Seeber H, Pauli E, Hummel T (2000) Multicenter investigation of 1036 subjects using a standardized method for the assessment of olfactory function combining tests of odor identification, odor discrimination, and olfactory thresholds. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 257:205–211

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Oleszkiewicz A, Schriver VA, Croy I, Hähner A, Hummel T (2018) Updated Sniffin’ Sticks normative data based on an extended sample of 9139 subjects. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Masala C, Saba L, Cecchini MP, Solla P, Loy F (2018) Olfactory function and age: a Sniffin’ Sticks extended test study performed in Sardinia. Chemosens Percept 11:19–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Hummel T, Kaehling C, Grosse F (2016) Automated assessment of intranasal trigeminal function. Rhinology 54:27–31

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Min YG, Jang YJ (1995) Measurements of cross-sectional area of the nasal cavity by acoustic rhinometry and CT scanning. Laryngoscope 105:757–759

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Roithmann R, Cole P, Chapnik J, Shpirer I, Hoffstein V, Zamel N (1995) Acoustic rhinometry in the evaluation of nasal obstruction. Laryngoscope 105:275–281

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Clement P, Gordts F (2005) Consensus report on acoustic rhinometry and rhinomanometry. Rhinology 43(3):169–179

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Zhao K, Scherer PW, Hajiloo SA, Dalton P (2004) Effect of anatomy on human nasal air flow and odorant transport patterns: implications for olfaction. Chem Senses 29:365–379

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Kalmovich LM, Elad D, Zaretsky U, Adunsky A, Chetrit A, Sadetzki S, Segal S, Wolf M (2005) Endonasal geometry changes in elderly people: acoustic rhinometry measurement. J Gerontol Ser A Biol Sci Med Sci 60(3):396–398

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Loftus PA, Wise SK, Nieto D, Panella N, Aiken A, DelGaudio JM (2016) Intranasal volume increases with age: computed tomography volumetric analysis in adults. Laryngoscope 126(10):2212–2215

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Hummel T, Heilmann S, Murphy C (2002) Age-related changes of chemosensory functions. In: Rouby C et al (eds) Olfaction, taste and cognition. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 441–456

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Damm M, Eckel HE, Jungehulsing M, Hummel T (2003) Olfactory changes at threshold and suprathreshold levels following septoplasty with partial inferior turbinectomy. Ann Otol Rhinol Laryngol 112:91–97

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Altundag A, Salihoglu M, Tekeli H, Saglam M, Cayonu M, Hummel T (2014) Lateralized differences in olfactory function and olfactory bulb volume relate to nasal septum deviation. J Craniofac Surg 25:359–362

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Hummel T, Whitcroft KL, Andrews P, Altundag A, Cinghi C, Costanzo RM, Damm M, Frasnelli J, Gudziol H, Gupta N, Haehne A, Holbrook E, Hong SC, Hornung D, Hüttenbrink KB, Kamel R, Kobayashi M, Konstantinidis I, Landis BN, Leopold DA, Macchi A, Miwa T, Moesges R, Mullol J, Mueller CA, Ottaviano G, Passali GC, Philpott C, Pinto JM, Ramakrishnan VJ, Rombaux P, Roth Y, Schlosser RA, Shu B, Soler G, Stjärne P, Stuck BA, Vodicka J, Welge-Luessen A (2017) Position paper on olfactory dysfunction. Rhinol Suppl 54(26):1–30

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Jones-Gotman M, Zatorre RJ (1988) Olfactory identification deficit in patients with focal cerebral excision. Neurophychologia 26:387–400

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Doty RL, Smith R, McKeown DA, Raj J (1994) Tests of human olfactory function: principal components analysis suggests that most measure a common source of variance. Percept Psychophys 56:701–707

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Hornung DE, Kurtz DB, Bradshaw CB, Deipel DM, Kent PF, Blair DC, Emko P (1998) The olfactory loss that accompanies an HIV infection. Physiol Behav 15:549–556

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Hummel T, Welge-Lüssen A (2006) Taste and smell: an update. Adv Otorhinolaryngol 63:1–22

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Sobel N, Khan RM, Saltman A, Sullivan EV, Gabrieli JD (1999) The world smells different to each nostril. Nature 402:35

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Vainio-Mattila J (1974) Correlations of nasal symptoms and signs in random sampling study. Acta Otolaryngol Suppl 318:1–48

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Masing H (1967) Investigations about the course of flow in the nose model. Arch Klin Ohren Nasen Kehlkopheilhd 189:371–381

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Kelly JT, Prasad AK, Wexler AS (2000) Detailed flow patterns in the nasal cavity. J Appl Physiol 89:323–337

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Hummel T, Pauli E, Schuler P, Kettenmann B, Stefan H, Kobal G (1995) Chemosensory event-related potentials in patients with temporal lobe epilepsy. Epilepsia 36:79–85

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Zatorre RJ, Jones-Gotman M (1990) Right-nostril advantages for discrimination of odors. Percept Psychophys 47:526–531

    Article  CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carla Masala.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical approval

This study was approved by the local Ethics Committee and was performed according to the Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed consent

Participants were informed on aims and possible risks of the study, both orally and in writing, and gave their written informed consent to participate in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Masala, C., Käehling, C., Fall, F. et al. Correlation between olfactory function, trigeminal sensitivity, and nasal anatomy in healthy subjects. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 276, 1649–1654 (2019).

Download citation


  • Acoustic rhinometry
  • Chemosensory system
  • Nasal anatomy
  • Olfactory function
  • Sniffin’ Sticks