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Development of a test to evaluate olfactory function in a pediatric population


  • This study was funded with federal funds from the Blueprint for Neuroscience Research and the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network (OppNet), National Institutes of Health, under contract No. HHS-N-260-2006-00007-C; and by the Nemours Foundation. The authors have no other funding, financial relationships, or conflicts of interest to disclose.



This study evaluated two versions of a test for olfactory function to determine suitability for use in a pediatric population.

Study Design:

Cross-sectional cohort study.


In phase 1, 369 children (ages 3–17 years) and 277 adults (parents) were tested. Children began with identification and familiarity judgments to pictures representing target odors and distractors. Odors were administered via a six-item scratch and sniff test. Each answer sheet contained the correct odor source and three distractors. In phase 2, 50 children (ages 3–4 years) and 43 adults were given a revised version with eight odors judged more representative of the source and familiar to children.


Both completion time and identification accuracy in phase 1 improved with age. Accuracy of children 5 years old and above equaled adults for two of the three best odors. In phase 2, adults' accuracy significantly improved relative to phase 1 (92% vs. 68%), and exceeded that of 4 year olds for four of eight odors and 3 year olds for seven of eight odors.


Children as young as 3 years of age can perform olfactory testing, but take longer than do older children and adults (7.44 vs. 5.66 vs. 3.71 minutes). Identification accuracy also increases as a function of age. The current six-item National Institutes of Health Toolbox Odor Identification Test is a brief, easily conducted test for evaluating olfactory ability. Collection of normative data for children of all ages and adults is needed to determine the clinical utility of the test and its interpretations for pathological conditions.