Background: One approach to the sphenoid sinus involves resection of the inferior portion of the superior turbinate. There is general agreement from anatomic investigations that this area contains olfactory mucosa. This study will determine if olfactory tissue can be found in the superior turbinate mucosa of patients with chronic sphenoiditis and what effect its removal has on a patient's olfactory ability. Methods: The inferior one-third of the superior turbinate removed during endoscopic sphenoidotomy was stained with olfactory marker protein antibody, a marker for mature olfactory tissue. The specimens were graded for content of olfactory neuronal elements. All patients underwent uninasal 12-item smell identification testing before surgery and at least 3 weeks after surgery. Results: Fifty-five superior turbinate samples were taken from 31 patients. Nine (16%) of 55 samples contained olfactory neuronal elements that stained with olfactory marker protein. When comparing the pre- and postoperative smell test results, 52% of the nostrils had no more than a one-item change, 35% of the nostrils had a more than one-item improvement, and only 12% had more than a one-item loss. None of the nostrils with a loss of olfactory ability after the surgery showed olfactory neuronal elements in their superior turbinate specimens. Conclusion: There is olfactory mucosa in approximately one-sixth of the superior turbinate specimens removed during the endoscopic transethmoidal sphenoidotomy procedure. Although 12% of the patients had a loss of olfactory ability in this study, none of the loss could be attributed to excision of olfactory tissue.
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