Alabama Nasal & Sinus Center

Alabama Nasal & Sinus Center

Help me, doc! I can't smell!

Help me Doc, I can’t smell!

Loss of your sense of smell is a really troubling problem.  Because of the connection between smell and taste, when one loses their sense of smell they also lose taste sensation, thus severely reducing your enjoyment of food.   There are many reasons someone can lose their sense of smell. 

The most common cause of anosmia, or complete loss of sense of smell, in young adults is head trauma, such as that suffered in car accidents or some high velocity sports injuries.  Another common cause of anosmia/hyposmia is viral upper respiratory infections, like the common cold.  In elderly patients, anosmia, or hyposmia (partial loss of sense of smell) can be an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Other common causes of anosmia, which we see a lot in our practice, are sinus infections and nasal polyps.  In addition, I have seen some patients with temporary loss of smell after using some nasal sprays.  These problems are very treatable.  Elimination of the infection and/or nasal polyps will often improve the sense of smell.  Unfortunately, that is not always the case.  Some patients will suffer permanent loss of smell sensation as a result of inflammatory damage from chronic sinus disease.

Finally, other causes of loss of smell include smoking (decrease sensitivity), allergies, effects of radiation for cancer, and (rarely) tumors in the sinuses or brain. 

If you, or a loved one, has loss of sense of smell, you should see an ENT physician.  We will perform a thorough history and full head and neck exam, including nasal endoscopy.  We always do a standardized smell test to confirm the degree of impairment.  Then, we may do some imaging, if indicated.  This may be a CT of the head and sinuses or an MRI of the head. 

Please don’t panic, however!  When I ran this blog by my staff, most of them reported feeling that their sense of smell was diminished.  Most people feel this way at some time or other for a host of reasons.  Allergies, colds, or habituation (getting used to a stimulus) will all lead to decrease in sense of smell. 

Until we meet again, God bless.

Kris Lay, M.D.

Alabama Nasal & Sinus Center

Birmingham, AL

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