Loss of smell, known medically as anosmia, is an inability to perceive odors. It can be partial or complete and, while rarely the symptom of a serious condition, can still cause misery for those suffering from its effects. It is usually temporary, the result of a cold or upper respiratory infection, but in some cases – especially those involving the elderly – the loss of smell may be permanent and a sign of a serious condition.
Anosmia occurs when the sinuses become swollen and inflamed. The most common causes include colds, flu, allergies, sinusitis and nonallergic rhinitis. Nasal obstructions such as polyps, tumors and other deformities can block the flow of air through the nose and lead to a loss of smell. There are many other possible causes including Alzheimer’s disease, brain tumor, aneurysm, diabetes, cocaine use, chemical exposure, malnutrition, hormonal imbalances, medications, Parkinson’s disease, rhinoplasty, radiation therapy and old age, among others.
Obviously, the telltale sign of anosmia is a loss of smell that cannot be traced to a cold or allergy. Some patients report a change in the way things smell. If the condition persists for longer than a week or two, a doctor should be consulted.
Treating anosmia depends on what is causing it. If a cold or allergies are to blame, treatment is unnecessary; the patient’s sense of smell should return in a few days as symptoms improve. If a polyp or other growth is blocking the nasal passages, surgery may be necessary. For bacterial infections, antibiotics are prescribed. Other conditions may require more specialized medical treatment. Occasionally, the sense of smell returns automatically, without any type of treatment.
Loss of smell can’t always be treated effectively, particularly if it is the result of age. In these cases, patients should take extra precautions to ensure their safety, such as making sure the batteries in their smoke detectors are all functioning properly and changed on a regular basis (experts recommend automatically doing this when setting the clocks forward or back each spring and fall). Care should be taken when eating leftovers; because smell directly affects the ability to taste, patients with anosmia are at risk of consuming spoiled foods that could cause serious health problems.
Call Southern Utah Ear, Nose, Throat, Allergy, and Facial Plastics at (435) 628-3334 for more information or to schedule an appointment.