The medical term for loss of smell is Anosmia or Hyposmia in case of partial loss of smell. The condition is also called smell blindness and is defined as the loss of the ability to detect smells.
What is Anosmia?
The disruption in the sense of smell is caused when certain conditions prevent the smell receptors inside our noses from working well . The loss may be temporary or permanent. Loss of smell is commonly caused due to allergies or cold that irritates the nasal lining, and this condition is temporary. More serious conditions such as brain trauma or tumour can cause permanent loss of smell. Age also plays a significant role in the permanent loss of the sense of smell.
The ability to smell can also affect our ability to taste. Therefore, it affects our daily life immensely.
How is Anosmia diagnosed?
Your doctor will refer you to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist to determine the cause of the condition. An endoscopic exam will be performed. If the symptoms are more neurological, you will be asked to consult a neurologist to assess brain-related issues.
Additionally, an MRI to evaluate your olfactory system and other tests to analyze your sense of smell will be conducted for a thorough diagnosis.
What other symptoms can accompany the loss of smell?
- Running nose
Symptoms related to obstruction of nasal passage causing loss of smell are
- Difficulty breathing
Symptoms related to brain or nervous system damage
- Numbness on one side of the body
- Speech difficulty
- Issues with vision
What Causes Anosmia?
The most common causes for the loss of smell are nasal congestion due to cold, sinus infection, allergy, or even poor air quality. The swelling or blockage prevents smells from reaching the top of your nose.
Temporary or permanent causes that affect your mucous membrane (lining inside the nose) leading to a loss of smell are
- The common cold
The obstruction of nasal passages due to certain conditions can also cause a loss of smell.
- Nasal polyps
- Bone deformity
Damage to nerves can also be a reason for the loss of smell.
- Covid -19
- Anxiety disorder
- Exposure to chemicals
- Side effects of radiation therapy
- Cocaine abuse
- Tumor of the brain or nose
- Brain aneurysm
- A traumatic head injury
Immediate and emergency assessment is required in these cases.
Why does Anosmia occur in Covid 19 ?
In people with COVID-19, loss of smell can occur suddenly which is often accompanied by loss of taste as well. In addition, these symptoms may occur without a stuffy or runny nose in COVID-19 patients.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, binds to a protein known as ACE2 which is found on surface of the potential host cells. Abundant ACE2 is found on cells in your nose and mouth. It is possible that the virus may directly invade the nerve cells linked to your senses of smell and taste. ACE2 can also be seen on the cells that surround and support such nerve cells. It is possible that infection of these surrounding cells may lead to levels of inflammation or damage that may impact the ability to smell.
When Should I Consult a Doctor?
If you experience Anosmia that cannot be attributed to cold or allergies, or if it does not get better after a week or two, it is best to seek medical help. Your doctor can evaluate the condition and look for nasal polyps or deformities causing the impairment. Contact your physician if the lack of smell persists and causes you to worry.
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Sudden onset of the loss of smell and weakness or numbness in fingers or arms can be a sign of stroke. Seek immediate and emergency medical care.
What are the Potential Complications of Loss of Smell?
The potential complications arising from this condition if you do not get treatment at the right time or fail to follow the physician’s advice are:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tumour growth
- Structural deformities to nose and sinus
While health concerns due to loss of smell are not many, the impact on your daily life is more concerning.
- An inability to smell spoiled foods
- The increased danger in events such as fire, gas leak, or chemical spillage
- An inability to detect body odor
- A mood disorder due to the difficulties of coping with the loss of smell
How is the Condition Treated?
As with most medical conditions, the treatment depends on the cause. If allergies or cold are the reason for your loss of smell, it will clear up on its own in a few days. Consult your doctor if your sense of smell does not return, even after you recover from the allergy or cold.
Common treatments for loss of smell due to nasal irritation are:
- Steroid nasal spray
- Cessation of smoking
Treatment methods if nasal obstructions cause loss of smell:
- Clear out your sinuses.
- Remove nasal polyps.
- Straighten out nasal septum.
A permanent loss of smell due to old age or trauma to the brain might not be reversible or treatable. You can always work around the disability to achieve the best quality of life possible.
The loss of smell is not usually a serious health concern. But it can greatly affect the quality of your life. However, persistent loss of smell can impact your interest in food and cause malnutrition. The inability to smell over a longer period can also affect your mental health.
There could be several causes of anosmia. An accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan are critical to the recovery or improvement of the condition.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is the loss of smell an early symptom of COVID-19?
Upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold or flu, sometimes affect our sense of smell and taste. Loss of smell can occur in COVID-19 patients, along with the loss of taste. Loss of smell can possibly be an early symptom and potential indicator of a mild case of the infection.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, binds to a protein known as ACE2 which is found on surface of the potential host cells. Abundant ACE2 is found on cells in your nose and mouth. It is possible that the virus may directly invade the nerve cells linked to your senses of smell and taste.