Loss of smell —Anosmia can be partial or complete, although a complete loss of smell is fairly rare. Loss of smell can also be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.
Loss of smell is rarely a symptom of a serious condition. Still, an intact sense of smell is necessary to fully taste and enjoy food. Loss of smell could cause you to lose interest in eating, which could possibly lead to weight loss, malnutrition or even depression.
Anosmia is a temporary nuisance caused by a severely stuffy nose from a cold. Once the cold runs its course, a person’s sense of smell returns.
But for some people, including many elderly, the loss of a sense of smell may persist. In addition, anosmia can be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Any ongoing problems with smell should be checked out by a doctor.
Nasal congestion from a cold, allergy, sinus infection, or poor air quality is the most common cause of anosmia. Other anosmia causes include:
Nasal polyps — small noncancerous growths in the nose and sinuses that block the nasal passage.
Injury to the nose and smell nerves from surgery or head trauma.
Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents.
Certain medications, including antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory medication, heart medications, and others.
Old age. Like vision and hearing, your sense of smell can become weaker as you age. In fact, one’s sense of smell is most keen between the ages of 30 and 60 and begins to decline after age 60.
Certain medical conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, nutritional deficiencies, congenital conditions, and hormonal disturbances.
Radiation treatment of head and neck cancers.
The obvious sign of anosmia is a loss of smell. Some people with anosmia notice a change in the way things smell. For example, familiar things begin to lack odor.
If you experience a loss of smell that you can’t attribute to a cold or allergy or which doesn’t get better after a week or two, tell your doctor. Your doctor can take a look inside your nose with a special instrument to see if a polyp or growth is impairing your ability to smell or if an infection is present.
Further testing by a doctor who specializes in nose and sinus problems — an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT, or an otolaryngologist) — may be needed to determine the cause of anosmia. A CT scan may be necessary so that the doctor can get a better look of the area.
When to see a Doctor
Loss of smell caused by colds, allergies or sinus infections usually clears up on its own after a few days. If this doesn’t happen, consult your doctor so that he or she can rule out more-serious conditions.
Loss of smell can sometimes be treated, depending on the cause. Your doctor can give you an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection, or remove obstructions that are blocking your nasal passage.
In other cases, anosmia can be permanent. After age 60, in particular, you’re at greater risk of losing your sense of smell.