Loss of Smell

What is loss of smell?

Loss of smell, or anosmia, is a condition where individuals experience a partial or complete absence of the sense of smell. This sensory impairment can be caused by various factors, including respiratory infections, sinus issues, head injuries, or neurological conditions. Anosmia can profoundly impact one’s quality of life, affecting the ability to detect odors, taste food, and even recognize potential dangers like gas leaks. Recognizing the symptoms and causes of loss of smell is crucial for timely intervention. If you’re experiencing anosmia, consult with healthcare professionals to identify the underlying cause and explore potential treatments for a fuller olfactory experience.

How common is loss of smell?

Loss of sense of smell, including anosmia, is not uncommon and can occur for various reasons. According to studies and research, the incidence of anosmia varies depending on its cause. For example, temporary anosmia due to a cold or flu is quite common and affects many people during the cold season.

Permanent anosmia is less common and can be the result of other factors such as nasal polyps, head injuries, or neurological diseases. Although not a rare occurrence, permanent anosmia is not as common as temporary loss of smell. It is important to note that there are different degrees of odor loss and that not all cases lead to complete anosmia. People who experience loss of sense of smell should consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Different states of loss of smell

What is Anosmia?

Anosmia is the medical term for total loss of the sense of smell, meaning that a person cannot smell any odors at all. This condition can be either temporary or permanent and occurs for various reasons, including viral infections, nasal polyps, head injuries, or neurological diseases. Anosmia can significantly affect a person’s quality of life as the sense of smell is linked to the sense of taste and can also warn of dangerous situations by recognizing smelly gases or food that have gone bad. The treatment of anosmia depends on its underlying cause and may include medical intervention, olfactory training, or rehabilitation of the sense of smell.

What is Hyposmia?

Hyposmia is a medical term used to describe an impaired ability to smell, meaning that a person has a reduced sensitivity to smell compared to what is considered normal. Individuals with hyposmia can still smell some odors, but they are not as strong or distinct as those with a normal sense of smell. Hyposmia can be temporary or permanent and is caused by various factors such as colds, nasal polyps, allergies, head injuries, or neurological diseases. The treatment of hyposmia depends on its underlying cause and may include medical intervention, olfactory training, or other rehabilitation methods to improve olfactory sensitivity.

What is Parosmia?

Parosmia is the medical term for a disturbed sense of smell where smells are perceived as distorted or unpleasant. A person with parosmia may still be able to smell, but these may be perceived as abnormal and sometimes unpleasant. Common descriptions include chemicals, burning, feces, rotting meat, or mold. Parosmia can be triggered by specific smells or almost any scent and can range from mild to severe. For sufferers, this can be very stressful and depressing, and it has been reported that the experience of parosmia can sometimes be worse than the initial loss of smell. This disorder can have a significant impact on the individual’s quality of life and can require parosmia treatment, medical follow-up, and management to facilitate recovery.

What is Phantosmia?

Phantosmia, also known as olfactory hallucinations or phantom smells, is a term used to describe the experience of smells felt in the absence of any actual smell. These phantom smells can range from common smells to unpleasant or unusual smells such as garlic even though no garlic is present. This anomaly can be both confusing and worrying for those who experience it. Phantosmia is a form of dysosmia, which means qualitative disorders of the sense of smell. It is important to note that these olfactory hallucinations are not linked to any external source and do not correspond to reality, making it a challenging and sometimes frightening experience for those affected. Medical assessment and management are necessary to understand and adequately deal with these phenomena.

Causes of loss of smell

COVID-19 loss of smell

During the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary anosmia and parosmia after COVID-19 has been some of the reported symptoms in those infected by the virus. According to research from different countries, up to 80% of COVID-19 patients have reported some form of loss of smell, including anosmia, although most cases are temporary and improve over time.

Medical reasons

Hormonal imbalances and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can affect the sense of smell by damaging the mucous membranes in the nose or the parts of the brain that regulate smell. Certain medications, including some cancer treatments and nasal sprays for allergies, can also damage the olfactory receptors or irritate the mucous membranes of the nose, leading to an impaired sense of smell.

Injuries & trauma

Head injuries and trauma involving the head and nasal area can seriously affect the sense of smell. Damage to nasal cartilage, mucous membranes, and smell receptors is common in such traumas, which can block airflow and prevent scent molecules from reaching the olfactory cells high up in the nose. Direct trauma to the head can also damage the parts of the brain that process olfactory input, causing inflammation that affects its ability to interpret scent signals.

Consequences of loss of smell

The loss of the sense of smell and smell can have consequences on both smell and taste. It affects not only taste but also the ability to recognize dangerous smells such as smoke or gas leaks. This can increase the risk of accidents. In addition, loss of smell can affect emotional well-being and reduce the enjoyment of food and the aromas of life. Seek medical help for loss of smell to determine the cause and explore appropriate treatment and solutions to best manage these impacts.

Impact on the sense of taste

The loss of the sense of smell, or anosmia, can severely affect the sense of taste. The smell is closely linked to the experience of taste and helps to identify different flavors. When the sense of smell is impaired, the nuances of flavors are lost, and food can be perceived as tasteless or boring. This can lead to a loss of appetite and interest in cooking. For those affected by anosmia, it is important to seek medical help to determine the cause and explore possible treatment options. Managing loss of smell can help to improve the taste experience and restore the joy of eating.

Safety aspects (e.g. inability to recognize gas leaks)

Loss of smell, or anosmia, is not only a nuisance but also poses potential safety risks. The inability to smell can make it more difficult to detect hazards such as gas leaks, putting people at risk. Anosmia can also affect the perception of burnt or spoiled food, smoke, or other environmental hazards. Safety measures, such as installing gas detectors and regularly checking food expiry dates, become crucial for people with a reduced sense of smell. To avoid potential dangers, it is important that people with anosmia seek medical advice to learn how to manage the safety risks and implement adequate precautions.

Social and emotional impacts

Loss of smell goes beyond the physical senses and affects social and emotional well-being. Anosmia can affect social interactions, as it plays a role in how we perceive and enjoy shared experiences, such as meals or gatherings. It can lead to feelings of isolation and anxiety, as smells are linked to memories and social connections. The loss of sensory experiences can lead to feelings of loss and depression. It is important for those affected to seek support from loved ones and consider therapeutic help to deal with these feelings and find ways to adapt to the new normal without the sense of smell.

Pleasure and nutrition of food

The inability to fully engage with taste and smell sensations can affect one’s relationship with food, leading to reduced appetite or changes in dietary habits. Smell and taste are intimately linked, and when the ability to smell is lost, the experience of taste is reduced. This can lead to reduced appetite and food choices, which in turn can affect nutritional intake. For those suffering from anosmia, it is crucial to seek medical help to find strategies to compensate for this loss and ensure a balanced diet. Managing loss of smell is necessary to continue to enjoy meals and maintain healthy nutrition.

Diagnostics & Evaluation

Loss of smell is diagnosed through careful evaluation by a specialist visit. The doctor uses various available tests, including smell identification tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), to assess the patient’s ability to smell and identify any structural or neurological abnormalities. Careful analysis of the results determines whether the loss of smell is temporary or permanent and identifies any underlying health problems. This diagnosis is fundamental to creating an effective treatment plan and improving the patient’s quality of life by restoring or compensating for the loss of olfactory ability. Consulting a specialist doctor is essential for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Methods of treatment

The treatment of loss of smell, or anosmia, varies depending on its cause. For temporary loss of smell due to a cold, for example, waiting may be the best treatment for recovery of the sense of smell as the sense of smell often returns spontaneously. For persistent or permanent anosmia, various adaptations and tools are available and doctors recommend olfactory training, where the patient trains the sense of smell with different scents. In some cases, medical interventions, such as nasal surgery or rhinoplasty, can be considered to restore the ability to smell. It is important to consult a specialist for an accurate diagnosis and to explore the most appropriate treatment options for each individual situation. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be used to address the psychological consequences of the loss of smell, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and social isolation. Through therapeutic sessions, the patient can be supported to manage their emotions and find ways to adapt to the new life situation. Rehabilitation and therapy may also include working with a nutritionist to adapt the diet and make food more appetizing through visual presentation and variation in texture and taste.

Preventive measures

Tips for protecting your sense of smell

To protect your sense of smell and avoid loss of smell, there are preventive measures to consider. Avoid exposing your nose to harmful chemicals and dust, wear a respirator when working with toxic substances, and avoid prolonged exposure to strong odors. Regular nasal rinsing with salt water can help clean the nose and reduce the risk of infections. By following these simple tips, you can help preserve your sense of smell in the long term.

What to avoid

To prevent loss of smell, it is important to avoid some common risk factors. Smoking is one of the main causes of olfactory problems, so avoid smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke. Strong chemicals and dust should be avoided, especially without adequate protection such as a respirator. Excessive alcohol consumption can also damage the sense of smell, so limit alcohol intake. In addition, it is important to avoid prolonged exposure to strong scents and chemicals that can irritate the nasal mucosa. For colds, avoid blowing your nose too hard to reduce the risk of damage to the nasal mucosa. By being aware of these risks and avoiding them, you can help preserve your sense of smell in the long term.