Facts about Taste & Smell
- Most patients who complain of a loss of taste actually suffer from a loss of smell.
- The majority of a food’s flavor comes from our ability to smell it.
- Disorders of smell and taste are fairly common, affecting approximately 2 million people in the United States.
- True disorders of only taste are quite rare.
Loss of smell- Possible Causes
Common obstructive causes of smell loss include a
- Deviated septum
- Nasal allergies
- Swelling of the mucosa caused by chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS) with or without nasal polyps.
- Benign or malignant tumors in the nose.
- Other health problems including obesity, diabetes, hypertension, malnutrition, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological disorders.
- Upper respiratory infection causing inflammation in the nose impairing smell via swelling and obstruction. Usually temporary during duration of the active infection, but a small number of patients experience a more prolonged or permanent loss of smell after a cold.
- Zinc nasal sprays, previously used to prevent or shorten flu or colds, have been associated with sudden and permanent smell loss.
- Trauma to the head, as may occur in a car accident, can also cause injury to the brain or the olfactory nerves causing temporary or permanent loss.
- It is also well described that the sense of smell diminishes with age in a similar fashion as vision and hearing.
There are many other reasons why people may lose their sense of smell, including metabolic, endocrinologic, infectious, congenital, developmental or drug-related reasons. Your otolaryngologist will know how to look for these other causes.
Testing Loss of Smell
- The physician will perform an exam, usually with a nasal endoscopy, looking for a deviated septum, polyps, inflammation, or other causes for physical blockage of the olfactory cleft and sources of smell loss.
- The physician may also use a scratch-and-sniff or other smelling test to quantify the amount of smell loss a patient has.
- A physician may order an MRI or CT to evaluate the olfactory system and paranasal sinuses for further investigation into the loss.
- Nasal or oral steroids and antihistamines to decrease the inflammation.
- Surgery may be suggested if the patient is found to have nasal polyps, chronic sinusitis, deviated septum, or other surgically treatable disorders.
- A short course of oral steroids (prednisone) may be beneficial in some patients.
- Attempting to retrain one’s sense of smell after loss (a technique called “olfactory training”) can be beneficial.
Patients who suffer from the loss of smell or taste are encouraged to seek medical attention as soon as possible to determine the cause of their loss. While certain smell losses are permanent, others can be effectively treated medically or surgically by an ENT specialist, especially if treated soon after the onset of loss.