Loss of Smell

Loss of smell, or anosmia, is characterized by the inability to detect odors. Without a sense of smell, you are unable to taste food, and can’t smell smoke or detect when something is spoiled, putting you at risk of danger. Fortunately, many cases of anosmia are temporary, but sometimes – especially when it comes to the elderly – it can be permanent, or indicative of a more serous underlying condition.

What Causes Anosmia?

The most common cause of anosmia is the common cold. Inflammation of the sinuses and irritation of the mucus membranes can also be brought on by hay fever, allergies, influenza, sinusitis, and nonallergic rhinitis. Obstructions of the nasal passages can also be a factor, blocking the flow of air through your nose. Nasal polyps, tumors and bony deformities inside the nose can all impeded airflow.

Damage to the olfactory system, the part of your nose that communicates with your brain and is responsible for the sense of smell, can also result in anosmia. Many conditions can cause this to occur. These include:

  • Aging
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Aneurysm
  • Brain tumor
  • Chemical exposure
  • Cocaine use
  • Diabetes
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Klinefelter syndrome
  • Malnutrition
  • Medications
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Radiation therapy
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Trauma to the brain
  • Zinc deficiency

A qualified ENT specialist can best determine the cause of your loss of smell.


Treating your loss of smell is incumbent upon finding the underlying cause. Some of the most common causes – colds, flu, and allergies – will run their course without treatment, and your sense of smell should return shortly. When nasal obstructions are to blame, surgical treatment can often remove excess skin, bones, cartilage or polyps. Treatment varies depending on the exact condition responsible, and might range from medications to surgery. Some cases of anosmia disappear on their own, while others are untreatable.

If your loss of smell can’t be corrected, take precautions to keep yourself safe. Change the batteries in your smoke detectors on a regular basis, pay attention to the expiration dates associated with food, and rely on your other senses to warn you.