Loss of Smell

Loss of smell, or anosmia, can have widespread repercussions, affecting not only your sense of smell but your taste buds, as well. In most cases, loss of smell is temporary, the side effect of a stuffy nose from a cold or allergies. But for some people – especially older adults – anosmia persists indefinitely, and might be a sign of a serious medical condition.

What Causes Anosmia?

Anosmia is the result of an inflammation or blockage of the sinuses. Colds, allergies, influenza, sinus infections, and nonallergic rhinitis are the most common causes. Nasal passage obstructions – nasal polyps, tumors, and other deformities – can physically block airflow through your nose, limiting your ability to smell. And damage to the olfactory system, the receptors in your nasal passages that are responsible for your sense of smell, can also lead to anosmia. Many factors can cause this, including:

  • Age
  • Brain aneurysm
  • Exposure to toxic chemicals
  • Diabetes
  • Hormonal changes
  • Malnutrition
  • Medications
  • Neurological disorders (Alzheimer’s, Bell’s palsy, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s, etc.)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Zinc deficiency

Treating Loss of Smell

Treating anosmia focuses on the underlying condition responsible for your loss of smell. When it’s caused by a cold or allergies, treatment is usually unnecessary; your nasal passages should clear up on their own in a few days to a week. Decongestants and antihistamines can bring relief in the meantime. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics. Nasal polyps and other growths can be removed surgically.

Not all conditions are treatable, and despite your doctor’s best efforts, sometimes a loss of smell is permanent. In these cases, taking extra precautions is necessary in order to ensure your safety. Check the batteries in your smoke detectors often to make sure they are working properly, and be careful when eating leftovers. If you’re a smoker, quit – this dulls your senses. Giving up cigarettes often leads to a marked improvement in the ability to smell.