Have you ever wondered what your life would be like when you would not be able to smell? Yet, we always take the sense of smell for granted until we can’t smell every day scents of cooking or perfumes.
When your sense of smell is compromised or altogether lost – a condition called anosmia – you will not only lose the enjoyment of life, but also it will affect your health and safety. Your sense of smell not just helps you with detecting odors; it is also a warning system to avert a dangerous situation. For example, without the ability to smell, you wouldn’t smell a gas leak or sour milk.
This article involves common questions about anosmia that can help you understand the condition. Read on to find more.
Essential Questions about Anosmia
Anosmia is a condition that results in the complete loss of sensation of smell. With anosmia, the inability to smell can be temporary or permanent. Anosmia is pronounced as “a-NOZ-mee-uh,” affecting a person’s quality of life.
You can experience temporary anosmia when the mucous membranes in your nose are obstructed or irritated, such as when you have a sinus infection, allergies, or a severe cold. But if your ability to sense the smell doesn’t return after a cold, it could be a symptom of a more severe condition .
Anosmia is estimated to affect 2-30% of the population and may result in the loss of interest in eating, leading to malnutrition or weight loss. Your ability to smell or taste pleasurable foods can also lead to depression.
How you should cure anosmia depends on the underlying cause you have. There is currently no cure for congenital anosmia – a lifelong loss of sense of smell. If the loss of smell is due to a sinus infection, allergy, or cold, it returns within a few days or weeks.
If anosmia occurs due to nasal irritation, it can be cured in the following ways:
- Reducing exposure to allergens and nasal irritants
- Steroid nasal sprays or tablets
- Decongestants for opening the nasal passages.
- Antibiotics in case of a bacterial infection
- Cessation of smoking
- Nasal washing (douching) .
If the nasal obstruction is the cause of your loss of sense of smell, then it can be cured by surgically removing whatever is causing nasal obstruction. For example, surgery can remove nasal polyps, clear out the sinuses, and straighten the nasal septum. The sinuses are usually cleared out by endoscopic sinus surgery (ESS).
You cannot treat anosmia if the cause of loss of smell is age (older adults are more prone to having permanent anosmia) and congenital.
If you have a partial loss of sense of smell, you can improve your enjoyment of eating by adding concentrated flavoring agents to food. The best avenue of recovery is to undergo scent therapy.
People with anosmia are also recommended to use caution before using natural gas for cooking or consuming stored food: they cannot detect odors of gas leaks or food spoilage.
What Causes Anosmia?
A swelling or blocking in the nose may contribute to anosmia, but sometimes, an issue with the system that sends signals from the nose to the brain may also cause anosmia.
Frequent causes of anosmia include:
Blockage of the Nasal Passages
When the passage of air into the nose is physically blocked, it results in the loss of smell. Nasal passages can be blocked by:
- Septal deviation
- Sinonasal tumors
- Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever
- Nasal polyps .
Irritation to the Nasal Lining
The following conditions irritate the mucous membranes of the nose :
- Viral infections, such as influenza or COVID-19
- Common colds
- Chronic congestion (nonallergic rhinitis)
- Sinus infections
Brain or Nerve Damage
When the pathways through which receptors present inside the nose send signals through the nerves to the brain are damaged, they cause loss of sense of smell. The following conditions can cause this damage:
- Brain or head injury
- Old age 
- High blood pressure medications
- Brain surgery
- Long-term alcoholism
- Brain tumors
- Illicit drugs and toxins
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
In rare cases, a genetic condition causes people to be born without a sense of smell. This is known as congenital anosmia.
How Long Does Anosmia Last?
Anosmia typically lasts for two to three weeks if you’re recovering from the COVID-19 infection. After this period, you may start regaining your sense of smell. For example, if a sinus infection, allergy, or cold is causing your loss of smell, you regain your sense of smell when the infection clears out the nasal passage within a few days.
If anosmia lingers longer, even after the infection has been cleared out, you should seek medical attention. Unfortunately, a significant number of COVID patients never fully recover their full sense of smell without scent therapy.
How To Treat Anosmia At Home?
Can anosmia be reversed? Since the treatment for anosmia depends on the underlying cause, you can follow at-home treatments along with medical interventions. You can treat anosmia at home in the following ways:
The best option is to use a professional scent therapy program. However, they are not always available. Although the recovery will probably not be as effective, you can undergo this therapy at home.
You need a minimum of four strong odors, which you will smell in a series during scent therapy. Each scent is gently inhaled for about 20 seconds. The training should be repeated for over a month, three times a day .
You will see improvements through smell training when you will fully concentrate on the scents. You can try smell training on these scents:
- Strong coffee
Whether raw or powdered, you can use ginger to retain the loss of smell. It is usually recommended to drink ginger tea because it reduces mucus from nasal passages and tames down inflammation of the nasal airways.
The ricinoleic acid present in castor oil has been long used to regain the sense of smell. Castor oil restores your sense of smell by reducing swelling of the nasal passage and fighting infections.
Ayurvedic practitioners also use castor oil to retain the sense of smell as a treatment of nasal passages. To use castor oil for anosmia:
- Microwave the castor oil to warm it gently.
- Place one or two drops of castor oil into each of your nostrils before sleeping and after waking up.
References for Questions about Anosmia
- Huynh PP, Ishii LE IM. What Is Anosmia? JAMA Patient Page 2020;324. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.10966.
- Boesveldt S, Postma EM, Boak D, Welge-Luessen A, Schöpf V, Mainland JD, et al. Anosmia-A Clinical Review. Chem Senses 2017;42:513–23. https://doi.org/10.1093/chemse/bjx025.
- Schwartz JS, Tajudeen BA, Kennedy DW. Diseases of the nasal cavity. Handb Clin Neurol 2019;164:285–302. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-63855-7.00018-6.
- Li X, Lui F. Anosmia. J Laryngol Rhinol Otol 2021;15:579–81. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1755146300168532.
- Boyce JM, Shone GR. Effects of aging on smell and taste. Postgrad Med J 2006;82:239–41. https://doi.org/10.1136/pgmj.2005.039453.
- Kollndorfer K, Fischmeister FPS, Kowalczyk K, Hoche E, Mueller CA, Trattnig S, et al. Olfactory training induces changes in regional functional connectivity in patients with long-term smell loss. NeuroImage Clin 2015;9:401–10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2015.09.004.