Condition: Loss of smell (anosmia)

Anosmia is the temporary or permanent loss of the sense of smell. Smell can also be partially reduced, or distorted Recovery is dependent on the identification and successful treatment of the underlying cause.

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What is anosmia?

Anosmia is the complete loss of sense of smell. Depending on the cause, anosmia can be temporary or permanent. Loss of smell has a significant impact on quality of life

Without a sense of smell, as well as not being to identify scents, you may find that food tastes bland or that it’s hard for you to tell foods apart. This can lead to a loss of interest in food, which in extreme cases can lead to poor nutrition, weight loss and even depression.

Some people with anosmia will add more salt to bland foods to elevate flavours, but this can be a problem if you have high blood pressure or kidney disease.

Having a good sense of smell is also critical in keeping yourself safe, for example, in cases of detecting spoiled foods, smoke or gas leaks.

If anosmia is long-lasting, it’s important to identify the cause and initiate treatment so that you can keep yourself safe and well.

What causes anosmia?

Anosmia is a common side effect of many conditions that cause irritation and congestion in the nose, such as:

  • Viral infection, including the common cold, Influenza (flu) and COVID-19
  • Acute sinusitis
  • Chronic sinusitis with or without nasal polyps
  • Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
  • Non-allergic rhinitis
  • A deviated septum

Damage to your brain or nerves can also affect the brain's ability to detect smells. Factors and conditions that may have this effect include:

  • Ageing
  • Head injuries
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Brain aneurysm, injury, surgery or tumours
  • Diabetes
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Huntington's disease
  • Certain medications
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Paget's disease of bone
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Poor nutrition
  • Radiotherapy
  • Schizophrenia
  • Zinc deficiency

Anyone of any age can be affected by temporary anosmia, but permanent or longer-lasting loss of smell is more common in those over the age of 50.

In very rare cases (around 1 in 10,000 people), anosmia is congenital. Being born with anosmia is either due to an inherited genetic disorder or abnormal development of the olfactory system (the sensory system responsible for smell), and there is unfortunately no cure for this.

What are the symptoms often associated with anosmia?

The main symptom of anosmia is the gradual or sudden loss of smell. Taste may also seem to be reduced, as our perception of flavour is dependent upon sense of smell.. If you have anosmia you may have also noticed that things started to smell differently in the lead-up to losing your smell completely.

In some cases there may be associated nasal blockage, facial pain and pressure or discharge. In poast-viral loss or after head injuries the nose is often otherwise asymptomatic.

Investigation of anosmia is  usually undertaken  by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. During a consultation, your consultant will ask you about your symptoms, examine your nose and run tests to evaluate the extent of your condition. If there is no clear cause, they may also send you for a CT or MRI scan to look for structural abnormalities in your sinuses.

What are the treatment options for anosmia?

In order to establish the best treatment it is important to identify the underlying cause.

For example, nasal polyps are usually treated with topical steroid drops and/ or oral steroids, and allergic rhinitis can be treated with antihistamines and topical steroid sprays.

Similarly, if your anosmia is caused by a condition that affects the brain or nerves, appropriate treatments may reduce the extent of your loss of smell.

If your anosmia is caused by a blockage, surgery may sometimes be recommneded.

A specialist consultant at OneWelbeck will be able to help diagnose anosmia, identify the cause and recommend the most effective treatment for you.

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Jul 2024


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