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Loss of Smell

A loss of smell is also referred to as Anosmia which comes from the Greek words "An" meaning (no) and "-osmia" meaning (smell). Loss of smell is a disorder that can have a major impact on the quality of life. It can lead to a decrease in ones appetite and poor nutrition especially in older people. A loss of smell often leads to a loss of taste because taste is closely related to smell (try eating while holding your nose to prove this). This disorder can be frustrating because it can affect ones ability to enjoy foods and appreciate pleasant scents. It can also hinder ones ability to notice possible harmful chemicals and gases which may lead to serious consequences.

Due to the wide diversity of this disorders, some cases may be permanent whilst others only temporary, depending on the cause and patient's medical history. Temporary loss to ones sense of smell is common with colds and nasal allergies, such as hayfever (allergic rhinitis) and it may occur following a viral illness.

Causes of the Loss of Smell

Ones sense of smell is usually lost due to disorders that prevent air from reaching the part of the nose where smell receptors are located (the cribriform plate, located high in the nose). These disorders may include Nasal Polyps, nasal septal deformities and nasal tumors.

You can expect some lost of smell to occur due to aging. This is caused by the degeneration of the nerves that control smell. Normally, people in their 50's gradually experience a diminished sense of smell. But aging is not the only cause of smell loss. Other causes include:

  • Ongoing process in the nose and/or sinuses such as Nasal Allergies, Rhinitis (inflammation in the nose), Nasal Polyps and Sinusitis (sinus infection).
  • Respiratory virus infection. A viral infection can lead to Sinusitis in susceptible patients.
  • Medications such as some antibiotics, high blood pressure medications and chemotherapy.
  • Trauma, including blows to the head or injuries to the nose
  • Injury of the specialized nerve tissue at the top of the nose (or possibly the higher smell pathways in the brain) from previous viral upper respiratory infections.
  • Smoking
  • Increased nasal mucus production caused by a number of ailments such as colds, influenza, Hayfever or Sinusitis
  • Chemicals, a wide range of industrial chemicals including heavy metals, inorganic and organic compounds, acids and pollutants
  • Diseases of the hormonal system such as diabetes and of the nervous system such as Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, migraine, brain tumors, brain lesions and epilepsy
  • General diseases such as bronchial asthma and cystic fibrosis
  • Drugs that include stimulants (such as amphetamines and cocaine), depressants (such as morphine) and other drugs including the vasoconstrictors in nasal sprays.

Sometimes the loss of smell may be idiopathic meaning it can be without any identifiable cause and very few people are born with this condition (the loss of smell). Occasionally, serious infections of the nasal sinuses or radiation therapy for cancer can cause loss of smell that lasts for months or even becomes permanent. These conditions can damage or destroy smell receptors.

Symptoms of Loss of Smell

  • Breathing through the nose becomes difficult
  • Post Nasal Drip
  • Nasal Allergies
  • Recurrent Sinus Infections (Sinusitis)
  • Nasal Polyps


Some people do regain their sense of smell, but others don't. So, it is important to have this problem evaluated by a doctor. To test smell, the doctor holds a common fragrant substance (such as soap) under the patient's nose, one nostril at a time. The person is then asked to identify the smell. Failure to identify such common fragrance may result in the patient be diagnosed with a loss of smell.

If properly diagnosed, many causes of impaired smell are treatable. Once diagnosed, patients should be treated. Treatment depends on the cause of the smell disorder. There is no known effective therapy for smell problems due to alleged viral damage. Some patients report temporary improvement with medications, such as antibiotics or corticosteroids. Normal smell function is possible with optimal management, for example:

  • Sinus infections and irritations are treated with steam inhalation, nasal sprays and antibiotics
  • Tumors are surgically removed or treated with radiation, but such treatment usually does not restore the sense of smell
  • Sometimes zincam supplements are recommended. Zincam is a zinc supplement which is crucial in maintaining normal smell function.
  • For loss of smell caused by aging, there is no treatment.


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