The scents of so many things can bring joy. For some people, it may be the aroma of fresh cut grass or blooming flowers. For others, a newborn baby’s skin, or the scent of bread baking can bring feelings of calm and serenity.
Smells can also warn of danger, letting us know there’s a fire, or food has gone bad.
The inability to smell can greatly impact quality of life. This condition is known as anosmia. Anosmia, a full or partial loss of smell, came to the forefront as a COVID-19 symptom. But this condition has many causes.
Anosmia can be treated medically. There are also powerful strategies for combating it at home.
In this article we’ll discuss doctor-recommended, natural remedies for restoring loss of smell.
Anosmia can be permanent or temporary. It often fades gradually over time, without treatment or intervention. However, not knowing when or if your sense of smell will return can be worrying. If you wish to speed up the process, there are multiple treatments you can try at home.
“The treatment for loss of smell depends on the cause. There are medical interventions which can help, as well as at-home treatments,” says Nicole Aaronson, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAP, FACS. Dr. Aaronson is a pediatric otolaryngologist at the Alfred I. duPont Hospital of Children and Assistant Clinical Professor of Otolaryngology and Pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson Sidney Kimmel School of Medicine. She is also a Healthline medical advisor.
In addition to medical treatments, Dr. Aaronson recommends this at-home strategy. “Smell training is a mainstay of treatment. In smell training, the patient smells a series of four strong odors that can be found in one’s home, or in the form of essential oils. Each scent is gently sniffed for 20 seconds. This process is repeated three times daily for 6 weeks. Long-term commitment is typically required to see improvement,” she adds.
Smell training may be most effective if you work on the same four odors each day, rather than alternating. It’s also recommended that you concentrate on the scent fully, giving it your full attention, for the entire 20 seconds.
To try smell training, Dr. Aaronson recommends trying these scents:
- ground coffee
During smell training, you may experience odd aromas that don’t jive with what you should be smelling. This includes foul odors such as burning rubber or bodily waste. This is known as parosmia. Parosmia can last for several weeks or longer but is usually temporary.
Dr. Sandra El Hajj, a naturopathic physician, recommends castor oil for anosmia. “Naturally, castor oil has been long used to restore smell loss, due to its active component, ricinoleic acid. Ricinoleic acid may help fight infections. It also helps reduce nasal passage swelling and inflammation caused by colds and allergies,” she says.
Castor oil comes from castor seeds. It is used as a nasya, or nasal passage treatment for restoring sense of smell by Ayurvedic practitioners.
To try castor oil for anosmia:
- Gently warm castor oil on the stove or microwave. Make sure it is warm and not hot.
- Place two drops of oil in each nostril twice a day: once upon waking and right before sleep.
Ginger has a distinctive, pungent scent that makes it beneficial for use in smell training. You can use powdered or raw ginger for this purpose.
Dr. Hajj also recommends drinking ginger tea. “Naturopathically, drinking ginger tea tames down inflammation of the nasal airways, while reducing excess mucus formations that block nasal passages, causing loss of smell,” she says.
To try ginger tea for anosmia, try using readymade ginger teabags. You can also make tea from raw ginger:
- Peel and slice raw ginger.
- Steep one tablespoon of raw ginger in two cups of hot water for around 15 minutes.
If you lost your sense of smell due to allergies or sinus congestion, a saltwater wash may help. This remedy flushes out allergens and mucus from the nasal cavity.
You can buy ready-made sterile saline solution or make your own as follows:
- Pour 1 cup of distilled water or boiled tap water into a freshly washed container.
- Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of baking soda to the water.
- Fill a squeeze bottle or medical syringe with the mixture.
- Tilt your head back.
- Squirt the solution into one nostril, aiming for the back of the head, not the top of the head.
- Let it drain out the other nostril or your mouth.
- Repeat several times daily.
In addition to COVID-19, other causes of loss of smell include:
|Cause||How it may affect your sense of smell|
|tumors and nasal polyps||Nasal obstructions in soft tissue can block the nasal passages.|
|allergies, viruses, and sinusitis||These can cause nasal congestion and swollen mucosa.|
|environmental irritants such as cigarette smoke and pesticides||Toxins can cause swelling and congestion in the nasal passages.|
|neurologic conditions||Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis have all been associated with loss of smell.|
|traumatic head injury||Injuries caused by accidents or falls can damage the nasal tract and cause tearing or stretching of the olfactory nerves.|
|aging||As people age, their senses tend to decline, although aging is more likely to cause a partial loss of smell, rather than complete loss of smell.|
|radiation||Radiation treatment for head and neck cancers can adversely affect sense of smell.|
|medications||Certain prescription drugs may cause temporary loss of smell as a side effect. These include blood pressure medication, some antibiotics, cholesterol drugs, and thyroid drugs. Over-the-counter nasal sprays may also have this effect.|
There’s no medical test that specifically diagnoses loss of smell. A doctor will rely heavily on your own self-reporting of this symptom. They may also ask you to react to a series of fragrances or food and report on what you can and can’t smell.
An oral history can help your doctor assess past illnesses that may have gone undiagnosed, such as mild COVID-19. To make a diagnosis, your doctor will attempt to find an underlying cause. They’ll give you a physical exam to check for a virus, allergies, or sinus infection.
Your doctor will also look for other symptoms, such as tremors, which might indicate a neurological condition like Parkinson’s disease.
Because loss of smell adversely affects the way food tastes, it can cause unwanted weight loss, vitamin deficiency, and malnutrition if left untreated.
Anosmia can also greatly decrease your quality of life, leading to depression.
If you’ve lost your sense of smell and can’t regain it with at-home treatment, talk to your doctor. They may recommend medical treatments to use alone or in combination with at-home smell therapy.
“Loss of smell due to nasal masses might be treated by surgical excision. Loss of smell due to allergies might be treated with saline irrigations and allergy medications. For post-viral anosmia, medications such as cis retinoic acid or alpha lipoic acid have been used with some success,” says Dr. Aaronson.
Anosmia (loss of the sense of smell) can be temporary or permanent. This condition has multiple causes, including COVID-19, allergies, and head trauma.
There are at-home treatments, such as smell training, which can help retrain your brain to recognize smells. Over -the-counter and medical treatments can also help.