Smell Disorders

Smell disorders are common conditions of the olfactory sense. Smell disorders often exist in conjunction with taste disorders and can range from a distorted sense of smell to a complete loss of smell. This may be temporary or permanent, depending on the reason. Common causes of smell disorders may be colds, allergies, sinus infections and viral infections such as the flu. Aging is also a factor in loss of the sense of smell. Like sight and hearing, the sense of smell tends to weaken during the aging process.

Types of Smell Disorders

People with smell disorders experience a change or loss in their ability to smell. There are different types of smell disorders that may include:

Anosmia - A complete loss of smell and the most common smell disorder, which can be temporary or permanent.

Dysosmia - A distorted sense of smell in which the person smells unpleasant odors that do not exist.

Hyperosmia - An increased sensitivity to smell.

Hyposmia - A decreased sense of smell that is usually temporary.

Presbyosmia - A gradual decrease in the sense of smell that occurs with aging.

Causes of Smell Disorders

Smell disorders may be caused by many different factors, some of which include:

  • Head trauma
  • Upper respiratory infections
  • Nasal polyps
  • Diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis
  • Certain medications
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Cocaine abuse
  • Dental problems
  • Toxic chemical exposure
  • Aging

Psychological conditions can also affect the sense of smell and create non-existent smells.

Treatment of Smell Disorders

Treatment for smell disorders usually focuses on treating the underlying cause of the condition. Other treatments may depend on the type of smell disorder and can range from lifestyle changes to surgery.

Treatment for smell disorders also depends on the cause of the condition. When the condition is caused by a viral infection or an allergic reaction, it will usually clear up on its own, though an over-the-counter decongestant may open the nasal passages and provide some relief. If a smell disorder results from an infection, an antibiotic may be prescribed. When the condition is the result of a nasal polyp or other obstruction, surgery may be required. When the smell disorder results from a particular medication, it may be possible to discontinue taking the medication or a substitution may sometimes be made, although this change should always be done under a doctor's supervision. For some patients, a smell disorder may provide another good reason to give up smoking or the use of cocaine. If the smell disorder is a result from a disease, there may be no effective remedy. Age-related smell disorders often cannot be treated.

When a smell disorder cannot be cured medically, the patient can be taught useful ways to adapt to the condition. It is important for a patient with a smell disorder to have smoke detectors in the home and to take extra care to make sure food has not spoiled or become contaminated.

Patients experiencing symptoms of a smell disorder should consult with their doctor to receive proper treatment or advice for coping with the condition.

Additional Resources