Anosmia or Loss of Sense of Smell: What Can Cause It?

Anosmia is the loss of smell. It's not a common symptom, but the quality of life of those who suffer it is altered, since they cannot perceive reality as it is. We'll tell you more in this article.
Anosmia or Loss of Sense of Smell: What Can Cause It?

Last update: 18 May, 2021

Anosmia refers to the complete loss of the sense of smell. In this article, we’ll see what situations can cause it. It’s not known to be a very common condition in adults, although the milder form of decreased sense of smell, called hyposmia, is common. Nor is anosmia in newborns – congenital anosmia – very common.

This inability to detect odors doesn’t only affect the ability to enjoy pleasant and pleasurable aromas, whether it’s the scent of flowers, a rich perfume, a cup of coffee or a favorite food. It can also put a person at risk because of the inability to detect potentially harmful odors, such as chemicals, gas leaks or spoiled food.

In addition, loss of sense of smell also affects the sense of taste. Both senses, i.e. smell and taste, interact in distinguishing certain flavors.

In itself, this isn’t a serious condition, but it may be part of the symptoms of a more serious disease. Anosmia, as we’ll see, alters the quality of life.

Anosmia as a problem

The loss of sense of smell prevents the enjoyment of some of life’s pleasures, so this can lead to frustration or even depression in some people suffering from anosmia. In short, there’s a decrease in the quality of life.

Sometimes it can lead to changes in eating habits. This sometimes leads to weight loss and eventual malnutrition due to the lack of taste perception in food. The person loses interest in food because they don’t perceive its taste.

At the other extreme, some people may become overweight. There’s also a risk of increased blood pressure due to excess salt added to the diet in order to add flavor to food.

A person smelling flowers.
Anosmia can lead to depression because it doesn’t let the person enjoy pleasant smells.

How do we sense odors?

The layer that lines the inside of the nose is called the mucous membrane. In this membrane, there are receptors in charge of detecting odors and sending the information through neurons to the brain.

When we breathe there are microscopic molecules that are released from the different substances that surround us and that come into contact with the receptors in charge of detecting odors. Once there, the information continues to the brain, where the odor is identified.

In turn, the brain will also receive information from the sense of taste, and both will contribute in order to identify many flavors. Without the characteristic smell of each food, flavors may seem bland. In addition, touch and sight also participate in the identification of flavors.

What can cause anosmia or loss of sense of smell?

Let’s look at some of the causes that may be behind anosmia or loss of smell:

  • Consumption of some medications: some antibiotics and antihypertensives.
  • Exposure to chemicals: either insecticides or solvents that may damage the nasal mucous membrane.
  • Radiation: which is localized in the head and neck region.

It should be noted that normal aging can produce a decrease or even loss of smell. This is explained by the decrease of the neurons that send the information from the receptors that detect odors to the brain. This loss may increase as the years go by.

A woman smelling a flower
The causes of anosmia are varied, ranging from the use of certain medications to the common cold.

Can anosmia be treated?

Anosmia or loss of smell isn’t a disease in itself, so it doesn’t have a specific treatment. Its approach is based on detecting the cause and treating it, if possible.

Physicians can treat upper respiratory and nasal conditions, advise on smoking cessation, remove polyps or tumors, and whatever else is appropriate to the cause. Sometimes it’s a temporary and therefore reversible condition, and sometimes it’s a chronic and irreversible condition.

Searching for the cause of anosmia is intended to reverse it, although partial or complete recovery of the sense of smell isn’t always achieved. It’s important to emphasize the importance of implementing psychological support in those cases that require it.

If you have any questions or you have perceived symptoms compatible with the lack of sense of smell, or its decrease, then make an appointment with a doctor. The most appropriate course of action would be to contact a doctor who specializes in the nose, throat and ears to start the tests.

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