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If you’re suffering from loss of smell or starting to have trouble catching the scent of things around you, it’s not normal. You should address it as soon as possible.

The complete or partial loss of smell is known as “anosmia,” and it can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause. In this blog, we’ll go over some probable causes of anosmia, the effects of losing your sense of smell and what to do if it happens to you.

[Related: How to Create an Allergy-Proof Home]

Probable Causes for Loss of Smell

Generally, loss of smell is part of a bigger picture and a symptom of another medical condition. Next, we’ll list some of the probable causes for loss of smell.

Cold, Flu or Allergies

Nasal congestion brought on by a cold, allergies, influenza, nonallergic rhinitis or sinus infection is one of the most common causes of loss of smell. 

If bacteria or viruses attack the olfactory sensory neurons in your nose, that onslaught can prevent them from sending odorant information to your nervous system. This triggers a sudden loss of smell.

Inflammation and Congestion

Having a bad cold or suffering from allergies can create conditions (aka excessive mucus or inflammation) in your system that block your nasal passages. That blockage prevents scent molecules from reaching the receptors in the top of your nose.

Nasal Polyps

Blockages can also result from structural problems, such as a deviated septum or nasal polyps. 

Nasal polyps are noncancerous growths in the nose and sinuses that physically block the nasal passages. Unlike allergies or a cold, structural problems don’t go away after a few days or a dose of medicine. And they don’t just affect your sense of smell — they affect your ability to breathe through your nose as well.

[Related: Cold vs. Allergies: How to Spot the Differences]

Coronavirus

Anosmia has been getting a lot of press recently because of its connection to coronavirus (COVID-19). Loss of smell is the best indicator of coronavirus infection because it usually manifests long before other common symptoms, like fever or fatigue. Sometimes loss of smell is the only noticeable symptom.

Coronavirus causes loss of smell by damaging cells in the nose. Those cells support neuroreceptors that transmit scent-based information to your brain. 

In most cases, the receptors themselves remain unharmed, and the sense of smell returns within a few weeks. However, it’s common for COVID-19 patients to lose their ability to smell for several months.

Although coronavirus-caused anosmia is usually temporary, it’s advisable to seek treatment if you don’t regain your sense of smell soon after recovering from COVID-19. Physicians still don’t fully understand the virus’s effects on the nose’s neuroreceptors. There are other viruses known to attack neurological links directly, sometimes leading to permanent loss of smell. 

In any case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Trauma

The final primary — and probably most damaging — cause of anosmia is trauma. 

Head trauma can damage or even completely sever the connections between the brain and olfactory receptors in the top of the nose. It’s not unusual for patients to report a decreased ability to smell after suffering a concussion.

Interestingly, patients who report post-concussion loss of smell often suffer from anxiety and depression later. This may be due to the close proximity of the olfactory bulb (the portion of the brain that processes smell) to the limbic system (the set of structures that process emotion and memory). If one is damaged, there’s a high probability the other also will be affected.

Here are other possible causes for anosmia (please note other causes may exist):

  • Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents
  • Certain medications, such as some antibiotics, antidepressants or anti-inflammatories, with side effects including loss of smell
  • Cocaine abuse
  • Radiation treatment for head or neck cancers
  • Injury to the nose or smell nerves
  • Aging
  • Certain medical conditions (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes) that can disturb the olfactory nerve pathway

[Related: The Best Post-COVID Breathing Technique to Practice Today]

image of nose with light radiating from within

Effects of Losing Your Sense of Smell

In one of his famous philosophical musings, Plato once said reality is too complex for humans to perceive, and our untrustworthy senses give false impressions of the true nature of things. 

Any person who’s lost their sense of smell would beg to disagree with that statement.

Decreased Safety Precautions

Your sense of smell isn’t just for finding a nearby Cinnabon or enjoying a fragrant rose bouquet! 

It’s a vital tool that helps you navigate the world safely. Studies have shown that people who suffer from anosmia are at increased risk of injury or even death due to accidents like gas leaks and fires. They’re also more likely to get sick after eating spoiled foods.

Think of all the times your nose has alerted you of food burning on the stovetop or an unattended curling iron. Imagine an entire lifetime of those events going unnoticed until the smoke detector goes off or the milk changes consistency (or color). If you can tell the milk is spoiled by looking at it, it’s probably been bad for some time. 

When you think of anosmia that way, it’s easy to see how disasters are practically inevitable for those suffering from it.

Reduced Emotional and Social Connection

Other anosmia effects may not threaten your life, but they can negatively affect your ability to enjoy it. 

Scent is an important component of human interaction. Studies have revealed that we can assess emotional state, health status and even genetic compatibility in other humans using smell. In fact, some scientists believe kissing is a subconscious way we lean in for a better sniff. 

But scent plays a role in our social lives far beyond just dating and mating. 

Recent studies have revealed that people who suffer from loss of smell are at increased risk of mood disorders — even those whose condition is not trauma-related. The inability to smell and the resulting reduced ability to taste certainly take the fun out of food- and drink-based social activities. 

Naturally, that can lead an anosmic to feel left out and socially isolated. Unawareness of one’s body odor is another problem that could arise in social situations. 

[Related: Are Nasal Polyps Disrupting Your Life?]

woman smelling orange peel suspiciously

How to Treat Loss of Smell

Loss of smell isn’t something to be taken lightly. 

If you or someone you love suffers from loss of smell, it’s important to treat the underlying cause as soon as possible and try to recover.

Consult With a Specialist

After losing your sense of smell, it’s crucial to consult with a specialist. When possible, your doctor will treat the specific problem affecting your senses and help you return to functioning as normally as you can.

For example, if you’re suffering from an illness, doctors can prescribe certain medications that help you heal and return your sense of smell. However, if nasal polyps are the issue, your doctor may recommend surgery or another correctional procedure.

Add Some Zest to Your Meals

Unfortunately, some people don’t get their sense of smell back, which can influence how they taste food. 

To try and make your meals more enjoyable, you can try a number of culinary tactics:

  • Using aromatic herbs and seasonings 
  • Adding small amounts of strong cheese, bacon or toasted nuts to dishes 
  • Avoiding meals like casseroles that combine flavors (it may dilute the overall taste)

Practice Olfactory Training

Olfactory training, or smell training, is a simple process you can do at home without a doctor’s supervision. 

This process helps rewire the damaged nerve fibers that went awry during a viral infection or whatever first caused your loss of smell. Olfactory training involves smelling several essential oils in separate containers and trying to guess the scent. Read more about olfactory training on our website.

[Related: How Olfactory Training Can Help You Regain Your Sense of Smell]

Contact Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center Today

At the Pasha Snoring and Sinus Center, we regularly address anosmia. 

Our methods include allergy treatments and in-office procedures like nasal corticosteroid sinus implants, radiofrequency turbinate reductions and balloon sinuplasty

These treatments offer benefits far beyond an improved sense of smell. Patients breathe better and feel better.

If you’re suffering from loss of smell, schedule an appointment and discuss the problem with Dr. Pasha today!

Featured image via Unsplash