What is anosmia?
Anosmia is the condition that occurs when you are loss of the sense of smell. It’s usually caused by a nasal condition or brain injury, but some people are born without a sense of smell (congenital anosmia).
A person’s sense of smell is driven by certain processes. Initially, a molecule released from a substance (such as fragrance from a flower) must stimulate special nerve cells (called olfactory cells) found high up in the nose. These nerve cells then send information to the brain, where the specific smell is identified. Anything that interferes with these processes, such as nasal congestion, nasal blockage, or damage to the nerve cells themselves, can lead to loss of smell.
Generally, the ability to smell also affects our ability to taste. Without the sense of smell, our taste buds can only detect a few flavors, and this can affect your quality of life.
If you’ve suddenly lost your sense of smell and don’t know why, see your doctor. They may be able to diagnose an underlying cause and offer treatment to restore your sense of smell.
How common is anosmia?
The answer is not really clear. There has never been a census to count the number of people who complain of problems with their senses of smell. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of anosmia?
The obvious sign and symptom of anosmia is a loss of smell. Some people with anosmia notice a change in the way things smell. For example, familiar things begin to lack odor.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Loss of smell caused by colds, allergies or sinus infections usually clears up on its own after a few days. If this doesn’t happen, consult your doctor so that he or she can rule out more-serious conditions.
- Loss of smell can sometimes be treated, depending on the cause. Your doctor can give you an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection, or remove obstructions that are blocking your nasal passage.
- In other cases, loss of smell can be permanent. After age 60, in particular, you’re at greater risk of losing your sense of smell.)
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes anosmia?
There are a great number of causes that can engender anosmia:
- A viral infection affecting the upper respiratory tract, such as a cold
- Persistent (chronic) sinusitis, with or without nasal polyps
- A nose abnormality, such as a crooked nose or a nasal septum (wall dividing the nostrils) that isn’t straight
- Hay fever (rhinitis) that causes severe inflammation of the nasal passages
- Certain medication, including antibiotics such as metronidazole
- Recreational drug use such as cocaine or amphetamines
- Long-term alcohol misuse
- An underactive thyroid
- Cushing’s syndrome (high levels of the hormone cortisol in the blood)
- Exposure to a chemical that burns the inside of the nose
- A head injury
- A brain tumour
- Radiotherapy to the head and neck
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Liver or kidney disease
- Vitamin b12 deficiency
- Granulomatosis with polyangiitis– an uncommon disorder of the blood vessels
- Sarcoidosis– a rare disease that causes body cells to form into clumps
- Congenital anosmia
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is anosmia diagnosed?
Your doctor may ask you some questions about your current symptoms, examine your nose, perform a complete physical examination, and ask about your health history.
They may ask questions about when the problem started, if all or only some types of odors are affected, and whether or not you can taste food. Your doctor also performs an examination to detect the disease. Depending on your answers, your doctor may also perform one or more of the following tests:
- Computerized tomography (ct) scans, which use x-rays to create a detailed image of the brain
- Magnetic resonance imaging (mri), which uses radio waves and magnets to view the brain
- X-ray of the skull
- Nasal endoscopy to look inside your nose
How is anosmia treated?
People with congenital anosmia have a lifelong inability to smell and have no concept of what a smell even is. Currently, there’s no known cure or treatment for congenital anosmia.
However, other types of anosmia may be treated when the underlying condition is treated. Treatments that may help, depending on your condition, are:
- A steroid nasal spray
- An antihistamine
- Steroid tablets
- An operation to have nasal polyps removed
- An operation to straighten the nasal septum
- An operation to clear out the sinuses, called endoscopic sinus surgery (ESS) (see below)
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage anosmia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with anosmia:
- Install smoke alarms in all areas of the home, especially in the kitchen and near the fireplace
- Change from natural gas appliances to electric or consider installing a natural gas detector
- Clearly mark expiry dates on food and mark leftovers with dates, so you know when to throw them away
- Carefully read warning labels on products such as bathroom and kitchen cleaners, and insecticides, to be aware of potent chemicals
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
What causes loss of sense of smell? 12 possible conditions http://www.healthline.com/symptom/loss-of-sense-of-smell. Accessed April 19, 2017
Anosmia http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/anosmia/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed April 19, 2017
What Is Anosmia? http://www.webmd.com/brain/anosmia-loss-of-smell#1. Accessed April 19, 2017
Symptoms Loss of smell (anosmia) http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/loss-of-smell/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050804. Accessed April 19, 2017
Review Date: August 3, 2017 | Last Modified: August 3, 2017