Grand Rapids ENT

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Loss of Smell

The complete loss of smell is called anosmia, while the partial loss is hyposmia. Both conditions can be temporary or permanent, however, total loss of smell is rare. For most people, the loss of smell begins to deteriorate after the age of 60, while the ability to smell is at its peak between the ages of 30-60. In addition, women typically have a better sense of smell than men do.

Causes and concerns

Loss of smell can be caused by a number of factors, however, partial loss is commonly attributed to the common cold. Other factors that can cause a loss of smell include nasal obstruction from polyps, abnormal nasal passages or a problem with the receptors that connect to the center of the brain that recognizes smell.

Ways people develop anosmia include:

  • Head injuries
  • Severe injuries to the upper part of the nose
  • Severe upper respiratory infections
  • Polyps in the sinus cavities or nasal passages
  • Aging
  • Long-term smoking
  • Inhaling certain chemicals such as pesticides or ammonia for long periods of time (years)
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Certain dental problems
  • Some prescription medications
  • Some illegal drugs
  • Radiation therapy (performed on the neck or head)
  • Colds and allergies
  • Certain diseases of the central nervous system (Alzheimer)
  • Medical conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease

Symptoms and signs

Anosmia and taste are linked. Many individuals that lose their sense of smell or those who are born without a sense of smell, also lose their ability to taste. Scientists believe this is due to the fact that people “taste” food by the smell, texture and the temperature. In addition, many people are able to recognize their foods or beverages by smell. Coffee is a beverage that is not only enjoyed by taste, but also by smell.

If you have many symptoms and signs that accompany your anosmia, you should consider an evaluation from ear, nose and throat specialist. Symptoms to be concerned about include:

  • Inability to smell
  • Reduced sense of taste
  • Persistent stuffy nose and congestion
  • Persistent sneezing, nasal drainage and itchy watery eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Nosebleeds

Solutions and options

If you come in to see one of our competent ear, nose and throat specialists, he or she will have you do a scratch and sniff test (you scratch a card and sniff it). This allows the doctor to determine if the loss of smell is partially or completely gone. The doctor will also take a complete medical history and give you a thorough physical examination.

With certain conditions, such as the common cold, severe upper respiratory infections and allergies, you should regain your sense of smell after the illness clears. If allergies are causing the problem, the doctor uses medications or allergy-desensitizing shots to treat you. Some anti-allergy medications have been used to treat anosmia successfully. If the cause of the anosmia is polyps, surgical removal is an option to restore your sense of smell. On occasion, a person who has lost their sense of smell may regain it without any explanation as to why.

For some people, the body is able to regenerate new cells in the olfactory nervous system that lead to renewal of smell and taste. This would explain why people who have lost their sense of smell sometimes regain it with no explanation. However, some people lose the sense of smell permanently. If you or someone you love cannot smell and you are concerned about associated signs and symptoms, call for an appointment today. Let one of our ear, nose and throat specialists help you find a solution to your symptoms.