Anosmia is the partial or complete loss of the sense of smell. This loss may be temporary or permanent. Common conditions that irritate the noseâs 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.
Anosmia is usually not serious. But it can have a profound effect on a personâs quality of life. People with anosmia may not be able fully taste foods. They may lose interest in eating. This can lead to weight loss or malnutrition. People with anosmia may also become depressed because they are not able to smell or taste pleasurable foods.
Anosmia is frequently caused by a swelling or blockage in the nose. This can prevent 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. The main causes of anosmia include:
Irritation to the noseâs lining may result from:
A cold is the most common cause for partial and temporary loss of smell. In these cases, the anosmia will go away on its own.
Loss of smell can occur if something is physically blocking the passage of air into the nose. This may include:
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:
Rarely, people are born with no sense of smell because of a genetic condition. This is called congenital anosmia.
The loss of smell is difficult to measure. A doctor or healthcare provider may ask you some questions about your current symptoms, examine your nose, perform a complete physical examination, and ask about your health history.
He or she 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:
People with anosmia may lose interest in food and eating. This could lead to malnutrition and weight loss.
Patients 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:
Treatment depends on the cause. If the loss of smell occurs with a cold, an allergy, or a sinus infection, it will typically clear up on its own in a few days. You should consult your doctor if the anosmia does not clear up once the cold or allergy symptoms have subsided.
Treatments that may help resolve anosmia caused by nasal irritation include:
Loss of smell caused by nasal obstruction can be treated by removing whatever is obstructing your nasal passage. This removal may involve operations to remove nasal polyps, straighten the nasal septum, or clear out the sinuses (NHS, 2012).
Elderly people are more susceptible to losing their sense of smell permanently. There is no treatment available currently for people with congenital anosmia.
Patients with partial loss of their sense of smell can add concentrated flavoring agents to food to improve their enjoyment of the food.