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 for the elderly – may be permanent and signal 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 and radiation therapy, among others.
Treating anosmia depends on what is causing it. If a cold or allergies are to blame, treatment is unnecessary; your sense of smell should return in a few days as symptoms improve. If a polyp or other growth is blocking your 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, especially if it is the result of age. In these cases, it’s important to take extra precautions to ensure your safety. Make sure the batteries in your smoke detectors are all functioning properly and change them often. Take care when eating leftovers; your sense of smell directly affects your ability to taste, and consuming spoiled food can cause serious health problems.