What is anosmia?
Anosmia is the partial or complete loss of the sense of
smell. This loss may be temporary or permanent. Common conditions that irritate
the nose’s lining, such as allergies or a cold, can lead to temporary anosmia.
More serious conditions that affect the brain or nerves, such as brain tumors
or head trauma, can cause permanent loss of smell. Old age sometimes causes
Anosmia usually isn’t serious, but it can have a profound
effect on a person’s quality of life. People with anosmia may not be able to fully
taste foods and may lose interest in eating. This can lead to weight loss or
malnutrition. Anosmia can also lead to depression because it may impair one’s
ability to smell or taste pleasurable foods.
Anosmia is frequently caused by a swelling or blockage in
the nose that prevents odors from getting to the top of the nose. Anosmia is
sometimes caused by a problem with the system that sends signals from the nose
to the brain.
Below are the main causes of anosmia:
Irritation to the mucus
membranes lining the nose
This can result from:
- sinus infections
- common colds
- the flu, or influenza
- allergies (allergic rhinitis)
- chronic congestion not related to allergies
A cold is the most common cause of partial and temporary
loss of smell. In these cases, the anosmia will go away on its own.
Blockage of the nasal
Loss of smell can occur if something is physically blocking
the passage of air into the nose. This may include:
- nasal polyps
- bone deformities inside the nose or a nasal septum
Brain or nerve
There are receptors inside the nose that send information
through nerves to the brain. Anosmia can occur if any part of this pathway is
damaged. There are many conditions that can cause this damage, including:
In rare cases people are born without a sense of smell due
to a genetic condition. This is called congenital anosmia.
is anosmia diagnosed?
The loss of smell is difficult to measure. Your doctor may
ask you some questions about your current symptoms, examine your nose, perform
a complete physical examination, and ask about your health history.
They may ask questions about when the problem started, if
all or only some types of odors are affected, and whether or not you can taste
food. Depending on your answers, your doctor may also perform one or more of
the following tests:
- computerized tomography (CT) scans, which use X-rays to
create a detailed image of the brain
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which uses radio
waves and magnets to view the brain
- X-ray of the skull
- nasal endoscopy to look inside your nose
are the complications of anosmia?
People with anosmia may lose interest in food and eating,
leading to malnutrition and weight loss.
People with anosmia should make sure to have functioning
smoke alarms in their homes at all times. They should also be cautious with
food storage and the use of natural gas because they may have trouble detecting
spoiled foods and gas leaks.
Recommended precautions include:
- properly labeling foods with expiration dates
- reading labels on chemicals like kitchen cleaners and
- using electric appliances
is anosmia treated?
Treatment depends on the cause. If the loss of smell occurs
with a cold, allergy, or sinus infection, it typically will clear up on its own
in a few days. You should consult your doctor if the anosmia doesn’t clear up
once the cold or allergy symptoms have subsided.
Treatments that may help resolve anosmia caused by nasal
- steroid nasal sprays
- antibiotics, for bacterial infections
- reducing exposure to nasal irritants and allergens
- cessation of smoking
Loss of smell caused by nasal obstruction can be treated by
removing whatever is obstructing your nasal passage. This removal may involve a
procedure to remove nasal polyps, straighten the nasal septum, or clear out the
Older people are more susceptible to losing their sense of
There is no treatment currently available for people with
People with a partial loss of their sense of smell can add
concentrated flavoring agents to food to improve their enjoyment.