Read below about loss of smell, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your loss of smell from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Loss of Smell Symptoms

Sometimes the first sign of losing the sense of smell is losing the sense of taste. That's because the two senses are closely related, and if you cannot smell something you may not be able to taste it, either.

Smell receptors are patches of cells in the back of the nose. If they are blocked or damaged, the sense of smell will be diminished or lost. A partial loss of the sense of smell is called hyposmia, while a total loss is called anosmia.

Duration of symptoms:

  • The loss of sense of smell may be temporary if it is simply due to congestion.
  • The sense of smell may not recover if it is caused by injury to the smell receptors, or by a neurologic illness (a disease of the nervous system.)

Who is most often affected?

  • Anyone who has been overusing nasal decongestants.
  • Anyone with an upper respiratory infection.
  • Anyone with an allergy that causes sneezing and nasal congestion.
  • Anyone over the age of 50 or so.

Is losing your sense of smell serious?

  • In many cases, the loss is merely temporary from something like a heavy cold or an allergy and will return within a few days or weeks.
  • Any head injury or nasal injury should be examined by a medical provider, whether there is anosmia or not.
  • If there are no other symptoms and no other apparent causes for losing the sense of smell, this can indicate the early stages of a neurologic illness and can be quite serious.

Loss of Smell Causes Overview

Nasal blockage, which prevents air from reaching the smell receptor cells:

  • Nasal congestion and inflammation due to:

    • Any kind of upper-respiratory infection that causes congestion and other cold symptoms.
    • Bacterial infection.
    • Viral infection.
    • An allergy, such as hay fever, since this also causes nasal congestion and swelling of tissue inside the nose.
    • Foreign body in the nose. This will cause inflammation of the nasal lining and blockage of the smell receptors.
  • Nasal blockage due to abnormal growths:

    • Polyps. These are small, soft, noncancerous growths along the sinuses and nasal lining. They are a common cause of the loss of sense of smell, but it usually recovers once the polyps are removed.
    • Tumor. A cancerous tumor may also grow from the nasal lining, interfering with your sense of smell.

Direct injury to the nose, which may damage or destroy the smell receptors:

  • Fracture of the nasal bone.
  • Fracture of the cartilage which separates the nostrils (the septum.)
  • Rhinoplasty (nose job), which is plastic surgery to the nose.

Head trauma, especially if the frontal lobes of the brain are injured:

  • Concussion to the frontal lobes.
  • Injury of the nerves leading from the smell receptors into the brain.
  • A tumor, whether benign or cancerous, that is damaging and interfering with brain tissue.
  • Radiation therapy to the head.

Aging:

  • As with other senses, the sense of smell may simply become less sharp as a person gets older.

Medications:

  • Nasal decongestants, especially if used for a long period of time. The rebound effect can cause swelling of tissue and blockage of smell receptors.

  • Estrogen

  • Amphetamines, also called "speed."

  • Some high blood pressure medicines.

Any illness that affects the circulatory system:

  • The nose contains delicate tissue with a generous blood supply so that it can detect even faint scents, and a diminished blood flow to this tissue will greatly reduce the sense of smell.

Progressive neurologic illnesses:

  • Loss of sense of smell is often the first symptom of these conditions:

Heredity:

  • In rare cases, a person is born with little to no sense of smell.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Loss of Smell

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced loss of smell. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Sarcoidosis

    Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that most often affects the lungs and skin, but can als affect the joints.

    This condition has a broad range of severity. It often goes away on its own over time but some cases can cause permanent damage.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, joint pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Chronic Allergies

    Allergies are an overreaction by the immune system to something that does not bother most other people. Many people who have allergies are sensitive to pollen, but other things such as dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold can also cause a reaction.

    Seasonal

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, irritability, trouble sleeping, runny nose, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic allergies:
    fever, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Acute Viral Sinusitis

    Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus spaces behind the nose and cheeks. These spaces produce mucus, which drains into the nose. If the nose is swollen or if the mucus does not drain, this can block the sinuses and cause pain or infection.

    Symptoms should subside within 7-10 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, cough, sinusitis symptoms, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    sinusitis symptoms
    Symptoms that never occur with acute viral sinusitis:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Loss of Smell Checker

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  4. 4.New - Onset Seasonal Allergies

    Allergic rhinitis, is an overreaction by the immune system to allergens in the air. While pollen often causes allergies, other culprits include dust, animal dander, and mold.

    Allergies are often seasonal.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, congestion, cough with dry or watery sputum, mucous dripping in the back of the throat, fatigue
    Symptoms that never occur with new-onset seasonal allergies:
    fever, yellow-green runny nose, chills, muscle aches
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Nose or Sinus Tumor

    A tumor in the nose or one of the sinuses occurs due to abnormal growth of the cells lining the inside of the nose and sinuses. These tumors are rare and can cause symptoms like congestion or blockage, nose bleeds and sometimes facial pain or swelling.

    Prognosis depends on the size of tumor and whether or not is has spread to other structures like lymph nodes.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, congestion, vision changes, ear fullness/pressure, ear pain
    Symptoms that never occur with nose or sinus tumor:
    improving congestion
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Brain Tumor or Mass

    A brain lesion can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Nonetheless, they are a potentially serious issue and should be discussed with a physician.

    Uncertain. Prognosis is very dependent on what is found

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, nausea, loss of appetite, irritability
    Symptoms that always occur with brain tumor or mass:
    focal neurological symptoms
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  7. 7.Common Cold

    The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract.

    The common cold resolves within 7 to 10 days.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, sore throat, congestion
    Symptoms that never occur with common cold:
    being severely ill, severe muscle aches, rash, severe headache, sinus pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Loss of Smell Treatments and Relief

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Any reduction in sense of smell that is interfering with quality of life, especially if you have other symptoms such as nasal congestion or facial pain.
  • Anosmia that seems to have no apparent cause. It may be an early warning of a neurologic illness.
  • Advice about coping with activities of daily living if your loss of sense of smell is permanent, because you may fail to detect things such as gas leaks, spoiled food, or smoke.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Using a salt-water nasal spray to help clear any blockage or debris that might be blocking the smell receptors.
  • Using extra spices and seasonings on your food, since you may actually feel the sensations of flavor as much as taste them.

FAQs About Loss of Smell

Here are some frequently asked questions about loss of smell.

Can you reverse loss of smell?

Certain causes of loss of smell, or “anosmia,” may be reversed, while others cannot be. Infections, congestion, or obstruction of the nasal passages may lead to a decreased or lost sense of smell. Many of these causes can be reversed with medications or with time as your body fights off the infection, leading to a return of the sense of smell. However, other causes of loss of smell cannot be reversed, such as head trauma, facial trauma, or brain damage including some strokes.

Is losing your sense of smell a sign of Alzheimer's?

Loss of the sense of smell, or “anosmia,” is associated with Alzheimer’s. People with Alzheimer’s first lose their ability to identify smells and then later lose the ability to detect different smells. However, just because you cannot smell does not mean you have Alzheimer’s. Other causes of loss of smell are much more common and pervasive in people.

What medications cause loss of smell?

Certain medications are associated with loss of smell. These include amlodipine, anti-thyroid drugs, beta-blockers, some antibiotics (like doxycycline and ciprofloxacin), cadmium, diltiazem, enalapril, interferon, lovastatin, methotrexate, nifedipine, silver nitrate, terbinafine, zinc (when taken in the nose) and many chemotherapy drugs. Tobacco products and cocaine can also cause impaired smell.

Can pregnancy cause women to lose their sense of smell?

While many women report a heightened sense of smell during pregnancy, there is little evidence to support this is a widespread experience. The same can be said of losing one’s sense of smell. While the hormones of pregnancy can have a wide range of strange effects on your body, there is little evidence linking pregnancy to losing your sense of smell.

Can nasal spray affect your sense of smell?

Most nasal sprays will not affect your sense of smell. Intranasal zinc spray, which is used as an over-the-counter remedy for the common cold, may lead to decreased or lost sense of smell, however. Since many nasal sprays are designed to reduce congestion, they can restore your sense of smell if it was inhibited by congestion.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Loss of Smell

  • Q.Do you have a runny nose?
  • Q.Do you have a stuffy nose?
  • Q.Do you feel fullness or pressure in your face?
  • Q.Are you experiencing a headache?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our loss of smell symptom checker to find out more.

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Loss of Smell Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced loss of smell have also experienced:

    • 6% Congestion
    • 5% Changed Sense of Taste
    • 3% Vaginal Discharge
  • People who have experienced loss of smell had symptoms persist for:

    • 50% Over a Month
    • 16% Less Than a Day
    • 15% Less Than a Week
  • People who have experienced loss of smell were most often matched with:

    • 66% Sarcoidosis
    • 16% Chronic Allergies
    • 16% Acute Viral Sinusitis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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