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Sensory Glossary

Anosmia — The Causes (and Treatments) Behind the Loss of Smell

2 months, 2 weeks ago

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Posted on Mar 01, 2022, 4 p.m.

Approximately one in eight Americans over the age of 40 experiences measurable smell dysfunction, while approximately 3% of Americans have anosmia or severe hyposmia. With anosmia being defined as the loss of sense of smell — either totally or partially, there’s no doubt that many who suddenly experience the condition may wonder how and why it occurs. From the causes behind anosmia to potential treatments, here’s what you should know.

What is anosmia, and what causes it?

While anosmia is defined as the total or partial loss of the sense of smell, it’s important to realize that the condition generally isn’t considered to be serious. When it comes to the causes of anosmia, there are several worth noting. Potential causes include sinus infections, smoking, allergies, the flu, and even the common cold as well as Covid—19. In fact, up to 1.6 million people in the United States actually have long-term smell loss due to Covid—19, with around 5 percent of all cases resulting in permanent loss of smell. However, the causes of anosmia don’t end there, as brain or nerve damage can also lead to the condition. For example, Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and brain or head injury are just a few of the conditions that can cause such damage.

Living with a loss of smell

Anosmia isn’t generally serious, though it can have quite an impact on the quality of a person’s life. For example, someone who experiences anosmia may not be able to enjoy foods to the fullest extent — a side effect of the condition that can potentially lead to depression, according to Healthline. This is largely due to the fact that smell is a major factor in enjoying food, with 90% of the flavor experience coming from the olfactory senses, not the taste buds. That said, enjoying aromas that come from things like flowers or candles can also be impacted due to anosmia, too, though one can still enjoy the comfort of a burning candle’s flame. With additional benefits of smell, such as the ability to create memories, and triggering emotions, it’s important to keep in mind that experiencing the loss of smell can be your body’s way of noting one of the first signals of a long-term cognitive condition, in some cases.

Treatments for anosmia 

When it comes to anosmia treatment, doctors must choose the appropriate route for an individual based on the specific cause of the condition. For example, if someone develops anosmia after an infection, then a doctor may suggest a supplement known as zinc gluconate, or smell training in order to treat the anosmia. On the other hand, surgery or corticosteroid drugs may be used for those with insomnia due to sinonasal disorders, while individuals who experience post-traumatic olfactory disorders as a result of a head injury may benefit from smell training. Smell training, a treatment option that involves sniffing four different odors intensely twice per day for several seconds over a period of at least four months, may be helpful, though it’s important to take into account that some cases of anosmia may resolve on their own without treatment. Spontaneous recovery from anosmia can occur in around 32—66% of individuals with an upper respiratory tract infection, highlighting the importance of going to a doctor to assess your own causes/treatment options should you experience the condition.

Anosmia is defined as a partial or complete loss of smell, whether it be permanent or temporary. With its ability to be caused by a number of different factors, discussing a loss of smell with your doctor is ideal in determining the best treatment options.

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