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Your ENT and Hearing Care Specialists

Loss of Smell

The loss of smell is called anosmia. For most people, the loss of smell begins to deteriorate after the age of 60, and many elderly people lose their sense of smell almost completely. Mouth and nose specialists report that the ability to smell is at its peak between the ages of 30 and 60. In addition, women have a better sense of smell than men do.

Causes and Concerns

Loss of smell is caused by several different factors. Some babies are born without the ability to smell. This is due to an underdeveloped chemical sensing system. The chemical sensing system does not release the molecules that send the signals to the specific part of the brain where odors are identified. The smell nerve is a complicated little nerve system located in a patch of tissue in the uppermost part of the nose. This nerve system is connected directly into the brain. If the patch of nerves is underdeveloped or injured, then a person can lose their sense of 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
  • Tobacco smoke
  • 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)

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 nose and mouth specialist. Symptoms to be concerned about include:

  • Inability to smell
  • Inability to taste
  • Stuffy nose and congestion
  • Persistent sneezing, nasal drainage, and itchy watery eyes
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Nose Bleeds

Solutions and Options

If you come in to see one of our competent nose and mouth 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 partial gone or completely gone. The doctor will also take a complete medical history and give you a thorough physical examination.

Our ENT physicians will perform a complete evaluation to determine likely causes of anosmia. 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.

Summary

For some people, the body is able to regenerate new cells in the central 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 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 nose and mouth specialists help you find a solution to your symptoms.

Additional Reading:

http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/smellTaste.cfm

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=13760