8 Medical Reasons You’re Losing Your Sense Of Smell
A change in your sense of smell could signal the onset of a health concern—the experts weigh in on the minor and major causes.
Smell is crucial to the way we experience the world, whether it’s the garlic in that sauce simmering on the stove, a fully bloomed rose, fresh cut grass, or the familiar scent of your first love’s perfume. (Love the smell of old books? Find out why.) That’s why anosmia, the loss of your sense of smell, can be such a blow. This condition sneaks up on people more slowly than hearing or vision loss. Because sense of smell is controlled by sensors in the nose that connect to your brain, there are a variety of conditions that could be triggering the loss of this sense—with some temporary and others permanent.
If you suffer from chronic nasal congestion, you should rule out these potential causes. “The most common cause is sinus blockage and congestion due to the accumulation of inflammation and toxins in the sinuses,” says integrative neurologist Kulreet Chaudhary, MD. “Causes of poor digestion are multi-fold and involve excess stress, over-working, poor eating habits, imbalanced microbiome (gut flora), and over consumption of processed foods.”
If you are not simply experiencing cold or allergy symptoms, your congestion and subsequent loss of smell may be the result of digestive issues or stress.
“The best treatments involve improving digestion to relieve the accumulation of inflammation in the sinuses,” Chaudhary. Talk to your doctor or a dietitcian about ways to improve your diet and tame your sinuses.
Pollution in general is an anosmia culprit, and, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS), tobacco smoking is the most concentrated form of pollution that most people are exposed to. It impairs the ability to identify odors and lessens your sense of taste.
The good news is that it’s not permanent, so long as you quit the bad habit. Check out these tips on how to quit smoking from people who have succeeded.
Exposure to toxic chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents can wreak havoc on your sense of smell by burning the inside of your nose. This may result in permanent damage to your nasal tissue and odor senses. Some of the biggest chemical culprits are: methacrylate vapors, ammonia, benzene, cadmium dust, chromate, formaldehyde, hydrogen sulfide, nickel dust, and sulfuric acid. Check the labels of any chemical spray you use beforehand, and be sure to always wear a respirator device that covers your nose when handling any strong-smelling chemicals at home or at work. Better yet, give these natural cleaning products a try instead.
According to Chaudhary, medications are one of the most common culprits for anosmia, and they’re also one of the least worrisome. If you’ve just begun a medication, you may notice that your sense of smell is off. Various medications, such as antibiotics, antihypertensives, and antihistamines can cause this. Take a look at the label on your bottle to see if it lists anosmia as a symptom. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about alternative drugs. “Often, if you can stop the medication and the symptoms typically resolve,” Chaudhary says. (Be wary of these 10 medication mistakes.)
Because of the nose’s close connection to the brain, a loss of smell is a good indicator that something may be off with your mind. Whether you’ve suffered from a concussion or have had brain surgery, be mindful that a side effect of head trauma can be damage to the olfactory nerves. The effect can be temporary or permanent. If you took a blow to the head, check out these symptoms to spot a concussion. Chaudhary also notes that while rare, your impaired smell may also be a sign of a brain tumor.
According to ear, nose, and throat specialist Dr. Ileana Showalter, a failing sense of smell is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, this symptom may show up long before you meet the diagnostic criteria for the degenerative brain disease. In research from last year, the Alzheimer’s Society reported that there’s growing evidence that anosmia is a noteworthy indicator of dementia. In one study, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center concluded that those with an impaired sense of smell were three times more likely to have memory problems. Researchers have also found that the inability to distinguish between the smell of bubblegum and gasoline could be a new way to detect Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative brain disorder. And like Alzheimer’s, there are early signs of Parkinson’s that are easy to miss. An impaired sense of smell is one: While most people with ansomia won’t develop one of these diseases, the majority of patients with Parkinson’s do experience ansomia, and it’s often overlooked by diagnosing physicians, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Watch out for these other easy-to-miss Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
As you get older, your sense of smell, like your vision and hearing, will decline. Research suggests that more than 75 percent of people over the age of 80 have evidence of significant olfactory impairment. Another study revealed that 62.5 percent of 80 to 97 year olds had an olfactory impairment. But you can ward off some of the ill effects of growing older with these anti-aging tips.