Loss of Smell and Taste Frustrating, Often Reversible

Smell and taste are two senses that are closely connected and help people through their daily lives. 

Taste, for example, can help people enjoy the food they eat, and smell can let people enjoy scents and fragrances, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

When people have loss of smell or taste, it can cause other problems, including loss of appetite and inability to sense some danger, according to the NIH.

The sense of smell works when the olfactory cells are stimulated by odors, such as flowers or cookies baking. The olfactory nerve cells are in a tiny patch far up in the nose. They connect directly to the brain, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO).

The sense of taste depends on the gustatory cells, which are clustered in the taste buds in the mouth and throat. The gustatory cells react to food and drink mixed with spit. The cells send information to nearby nerve fibers, which then send messages to the brain, according to the AAO.

Smell and taste can also warn us about dangers around people, such as a fire, poisonous fumes, and even rotten food, according to the NIH.

Losing Your Senses

Loss of smell and taste can happen gradually over time as people age, usually starting after 60. But some people are born with poor senses of smell or taste, according to the AAO.

Loss of smell or taste, according to the AAO, can also be caused by:

  • Dental problems
  • Exposure to chemicals, such as insecticides
  • Head injury
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Polyps in the nasal or sinus cavities
  • Radiation therapy
  • Some medications
  • Upper respiratory infection

Smoking tobacco can also hurt your sense of smell, but quitting smoking can help improve your sense of smell, according to the AAO.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A scratch-and-sniff test is used to diagnose the loss of smell. To diagnose loss of taste, a variety of chemical combinations are used to represent flavors. Sometimes they are put directly on the tongue. Other times they used in a sip, spit, and rinse test, according to the AAO.

The loss of smell and taste can sometimes be treated, depending on what caused the loss, according to the AAO. 

If the loss is caused by a medication, it’s possible the medication could be stopped or changed, according to the AAO. If the loss is caused by a sickness or allergies, oftentimes the senses will go back to normal after you are no longer sick or the allergy season has passed.

Many times, nasal obstructions – such as polyps – can be removed. By opening up the airway, smells can get to the receptors again, which can correct loss of smell and taste, according to the AAO.

When to Seek Treatment

If you start to notice problems with your smell or taste, keep a record of it. The AAO recommends you try to include:

  • If you had a head injury
  • If you have had a cold or flu
  • When you first noticed it
  • Where you were when it started
  • Whether you were in an area with high amounts of allergens, such as pollen, dander, dust, or air pollution

Taking this information to a visit an ear, nose, and throat specialist can help find a diagnosis, according to the AAO.

For more information about dulled senses, talk with your doctor. Or, make an appointment with a physician at Premier ENT Associates to be examined by a board certified ear, nose and throat specialist.