That Smell! Common Reasons for Olfactory Loss

Our sense of smell is an underestimated boost to our quality of life. So when it's lost, medical treatment is critical.

Our sense of smell is an underestimated boost to our quality of life. So when it’s lost, medical treatment is critical.

Breakfast on the griddle, jasmine in the garden, your lover’s favorite perfume – No doubt each of these conjure a particular pleasing emotion. After all, our sense of smell, more than any other of the senses, is psychologically linked with memory and can have a profound effect on the ways in which we connect with the world around us.

So, imagine for a moment, that you’ve lost your sense of smell. Scary, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common occurrence. Among the top direct or indirect contributing factors to a partial or full loss of the ability to smell are:

  • Nasal obstructions (nasal polyps)
  • Degenerative nerve disease
  • Exposure to hazardous chemicals, such as pesticides or solvents
  • Head and neck cancers and related radiation treatments
  • Chronic respiratory infections
  • Oral disease
  • Radiation therapy
  • Dementia, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s
  • Traumatic head injuries
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Certain medications or drug abuse
  • Advanced age

Any of these conditions can negatively affect the functionality of not only your olfactory nerve cells (those responsible for your sense of smell) but also your gustatory nerve cells (those responsible for taste). And that loss of functionality can affect not only your quality of life, but your safety and perhaps your very life as well. For example, the smell of certain gasses, smoke or spoiled foods can alert us to danger, allowing us to act before it’s too late. And, research on the psychology of smell shows that body odor, produced by the genes which make up our immune system, can help us subconsciously choose our life partners.

While most people would report a loss of sight or hearing as a top worry, it’s clear that the loss of smell is a far underestimated misfortune. Fortunately, however, help is available.

If you suspect you’re beginning to lose your sense of smell, a highly trained otolaryngologist can perform a thorough examination of your head and neck to pinpoint signs of infections, inflammation or physical obstruction that may be affecting your sense of smell or taste. Treatment options may include prescription or over-the-counter medications including decongestants or antibiotics, or surgery to remove nasal polyps or other obstructions. Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, including nixing your smoking habit.

To find out which treatment option may best address your loss of smell, contact St. Augustine Ear, Nose & Throat at 904-461-6060 or via our online email form.