Have you ever had a loss of smell and taste? You certainly might have had flu in which this happens. So often, we don’t appreciate our sense of taste or smell much until we lose it. This article will discuss anosmia, its causes, signs and symptoms, and treatment options.
What Is Anosmia?
Anosmia is a condition that involves a complete loss of smell. While some individuals get anosmia by birth, others may gradually lose the sensation to smell. It is suggested that anosmia affects approximately 3–20% of people. Also called smell blindness by some people, anosmia can be temporary or permanent.
The process of smell involves nervous messaging to and from the brain and nose. For example, when you sniff something, air entering your nose containing the odor molecules comes in contact with the olfactory nerve endings responsible for the sense of smell.
These nerves are found on the nasal epithelium internally. When stimulated by odor molecules, these nerves send signals to the brain. Upon arrival in the brain, it processes this olfactory information and translates it into an odor you can identify.
Anosmia and Hyposmia
The loss of smell may not seem like a terrible condition at first until you realize that it also includes Hyposmia, the loss of taste. We don’t often think about how much of our sense of taste comes from our olfactory bulb, which also gives us our sense of taste. The olfactory bulb is responsible for over 80% of our sense of taste. Our tongue contributes less than 20%, mostly in perceiving the differences between sweet, salty, sour, and bitter compounds in food.
What Are the Causes?
One of the most prevalent causes of anosmia is nasal congestion, commonly due to a cold, sinus infection, allergy, or bad air quality. However, there are other causes too, which include:
- Nasal polyps – minor noncancerous progressions in the nose and sinuses, blocking the nasal passage.
- Injury to the nasal cavity, damaging the olfactory nerves, such as surgery or head trauma.
- Exposure to toxic substances, for example, pesticides.
- Certain medicines, such as antidepressants and anti-inflammatory medications, antibiotics, and cardiac drugs.
- Abuse of cocaine
- Old age – like every other organ’s activity, sense of smell, vision, and hearing may also weaken with time.
- Certain underlying health conditions include nutritional deficiencies, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, hormonal imbalances, and congenital disorders.
- Head and neck radiation treatment.
Sommeliers and COVID
Sommeliers, like all restaurant workers, are at high risk of contracting COVID. While there is no accurate reporting on the number of sommeliers who have been sidelined due to the disease, anecdotal evidence puts it around 1 in a hundred. One of the major reasons is losing their sense of smell. Many somms have reported to us they have lost all or some of their sense of taste. Several wine schools have reported to us that upwards of 5% of their students show some loss of smell; many of them don’t realize their handicap until they are in a wine course and can’t identify certain scents in wine.
“uh naaz mee uh” is the correct pronunciation.
Signs and Symptoms
The fundamental symptom is the loss of smell. Individuals born with anosmia may not even realize they have it. This is because they had never appreciated the sense of smell.
On the other hand, the loss of smell can be an initial sign of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Therefore, if you notice an inability to smell, you should see a doctor immediately.
A lack of smell can be dangerous as it does not allow a person to smell the warning odors in foods and the environment, like the smell of smoke from a fire, a bouquet of a toxic chemical, etc.
Besides, individuals suffering from the disease are predisposed to low quality of life and feelings of well-being.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The disease is generally detected when a patient self-report a loss of or alteration in their ability to smell. Therefore, the self-reported olfactory function index of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) serves as a dependable approach to diagnosing anosmia.
As for the treatment, your doctor will first identify the cause and then prescribe the appropriate treatment. There are, however, cell modification and genetic therapeutic options for individuals with a genetic cause. In addition, for anosmia due to any infection or head injury, your doctor may suggest supplementing zinc gluconate or scent training.
Corticosteroid drugs or surgery may be the options for those having anosmia due to sinonasal disorders. However, some cases might also resolve on their own without medical treatment. As of this writing, scent training is the preferred therapy for most patients who suffer a loss of smell.