Kidney and bladder health

Updated 07 August 2017

Can't smell? This drug might help

Loss of smell is common in chronic kidney disease and can lead to malnutrition and other health issues.

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A common problem among Chronic kidney disease patients is a loss of their sense of smell, which could lead to an inadequate diet, researchers say. Malnutrition in these patients can also result in poor quality of life, poor overall health and even early death.

But a new study found that using an inhaled asthma drug might improve the sense of smell in kidney failure patients. The drug is called intranasal theophylline (Theolair).

The drug improves loss of smell (hyposmia) also in people who don't have kidney failure.

Improving nutritional status

"Our ultimate goal is to have an intervention that can alleviate smell loss, and thus to improve the kidney patients' nutritional status," study co-leader Dr Sagar Nigwekar said in a news release from the American Society of Nephrology.

The study included 36 patients with chronic kidney disease, 100 with kidney failure and 25 with normal kidney function. Average scores on odour identification tests were about 76% among the kidney disease patients, 67% for those with kidney failure, and 84% for those with normal kidney function.

Study co-leader Teodor Paunescu, said, "We found that, while most kidney disease patients do not perceive a problem with their sense of smell, deficits in the ability to smell are actually common among these patients, and the severity of these deficits increases with the severity of their kidney disease."

The researchers also found a link between the sensory loss and nutrition shortfalls in kidney disease patients.

Effects of asthma drug

Nigwekar and Paunescu are assistant professors at Harvard Medical School and researchers in the nephrology division at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The study found that six weeks' use of an asthma drug, called intranasal theophylline (Theolair), improved the ability to smell in five of seven patients with kidney failure.

"These findings warrant confirmation in a larger study," Nigwekar said.

The study was published online in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Chronic kidney disease in SA

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has been estimated to affect as much as 15% of the South African population. According to the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa, it also represents a growing healthcare problem with some 20 000 new patients requiring diagnosis and treatment every year in South Africa.

The link between asthma medication and regaining smell may be a small step in improving the life quality of kidney patients.