A double-blinded randomised controlled trial of vitamin A drops to treat post-viral olfactory loss: study protocol for a proof-of-concept study for vitamin A nasal drops in post-viral olfactory loss (APOLLO)

Kala Kumaresan, Sara Bengtsson, Saber Sami, Allan Clark, Thomas Hummel, James Boardman, Juliet High, Rashed Sobhan, Carl Philpott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
18 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Smell loss is a common problem with an estimated 5% of the population having no functioning sense of smell. Viral causes of smell loss are the second most common cause and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is estimated to have caused 20,000 more people this year to have a lasting loss of smell. Isolation, depression, anxiety, and risk of danger from hazards such as toxic gas and spoiled food are all negative impacts. It also affects appetite with weight loss/gain in two-thirds of those affected. Phantosmia or smell distortion can also occur making most foods seem unpalatable. Smell training has been tried with good results in the immediate post-viral phase. Evidence behind treatment with steroids has not shown to have proven effectiveness. With this, a key problem for patients and their clinicians is the lack of proven effective therapeutic treatment options. Based on previous studies, there is some evidence supporting the regenerative potential of retinoic acid, the metabolically active form of vitamin A in the regeneration of olfactory receptor neurons. It is based on this concept that we have chosen vitamin A as our study comparator.

Aim: To undertake a two-arm randomised trial of intranasally delivered vitamin A vs no intervention to determine proof of concept.

Methods/design: The study will compare 10,000 IU once daily Vitamin A self-administered intranasal drops versus peanut oil drops (placebo) delivered over 12 weeks in patients with post-viral olfactory loss. Potentially eligible patients will be recruited from the Smell & Taste Clinic and via the charity Fifth Sense. They will be invited to attend the Brain Imaging Centre at the University of East Anglia on two occasions, 3 months apart. If they meet the eligibility criteria, they will be consented to enter the study and randomised to receive vitamin A drops or no treatment in a 2:1 ratio. MRI scanning will enable volumetric measurement of the OB and ROS; fMRI will then be conducted using an olfactometer to deliver pulsed odours—phenethylalcohol (rose-like) and hydrogen sulphide (rotten eggs). Participants will also perform a standard smell test at both visits as well as complete a quality-of-life questionnaire. Change in OB volume will be the primary outcome measure.

Discussion: We expect the outputs of this study to enable a subsequent randomised controlled trial of Vitamin A versus placebo. With PPI input we will make the outputs publicly available using journals, conferences, and social media via Fifth Sense. We have already prepared a draft RCT proposal in partnership with the Norwich Clinical Trials Unit and plan to develop this further in light of the findings.

Trial registration: ISRCTN registry 39523. Date of registration in the primary registry: 23rd February 2021.
Original languageEnglish
Article number174
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusPublished - 12 Oct 2023


  • Olfactory dysfunction
  • Randomised controlled trial
  • Smell
  • Vitamin A

Cite this