Symptom: Loss of smell

    Loss of smell — anosmia (an-OZ-me-uh) — can be partial or complete, although a complete loss of smell is fairly rare. Loss of smell can also be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause.

    Loss of smell is rarely a symptom of a serious condition. Still, an intact sense of smell is necessary to fully taste and enjoy food. Loss of smell could cause you to lose interest in eating, which could possibly lead to weight loss, malnutrition or even depression.

    Loss of smell

    Anosmia can be caused by temporary or permanent irritation, or destruction of the mucous membranes lining the inside of your nose. This can be caused by:

    1. Acute sinusitis (sinus infection)
    2. Common cold
    3. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)
    4. Influenza (flu)
    5. Nonallergic rhinitis (chronic congestion or sneezing not related to allergies)

    These conditions are generally the most common causes of loss of smell.

    Anosmia can be caused by something physically blocking the flow of air through your nose. These obstructions can include:

    1. Bony deformity inside your nose
    2. Nasal polyps
    3. Tumors

    Your olfactory system, which provides your sense of smell, consists of receptors in the mucous lining of your nose that send information through nerves into your brain. You can lose your sense of smell if any part of the olfactory pathway is damaged or destroyed. This can happen as a result of:

    1. Aging
    2. Alzheimer's disease
    3. Brain aneurysm
    4. Brain surgery
    5. (both cancerous and noncancerous)
    6. Chemical exposures to certain insecticides or solvents
    7. Diabetes
    8. Huntington's disease
    9. Kallmann's syndrome (inability of testicles to produce sperm)
    10. Klinefelter syndrome (a condition in which males have an extra X chromosome in most of their cells)
    11. Korsakoff's psychosis (a brain disorder caused by the lack of thiamin)
    12. Malnutrition
    13. Medications (for example, some high blood pressure medications)
    14. Multiple sclerosis
    15. Multiple system atrophy (MSA) (a progressive disorder of the nervous system)
    16. Paget's disease of bone (a disease that affects your bones, sometimes facial ones)
    17. Parkinson's disease
    18. Pick's disease (a form of dementia)
    19. Radiation therapy
    20. Rhinoplasty
    21. Schizophrenia
    22. Sjogren's syndrome (an inflammatory disease that generally causes dry mouth and eyes)
    23. Traumatic brain injury
    24. Zinc deficiency

    Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.


    Loss of smell can sometimes be treated, depending on the cause. Your doctor can give you an antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection, or remove obstructions that are blocking your nasal passage.

    In other cases, anosmia can be permanent. After age 60, in particular, you're at greater risk of losing your sense of smell.


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