Loss of smell - The symptoms of Anosmia or Hyposmia

Anosmia and Hyposmia both relate to the loss of smell. There can be a range of reasons why you might experience this, from a recent COVID-19 infection to the aftermath of an injury. It can be alarming to lose your sense of smell - and may impact how you experience many different areas of your life. Anosmia or Hyposmia can also be a sign that there might be something going on in your body that needs further investigation.

What are Anosmia and Hyposmia?

Anosmia is a total loss of smell and Hyposmia is where you may partially lose your sense of smell. In some cases this may simply be the result of natural ageing - by the age of 60 most of us will have noticed some sort of change in our sense of smell and by 70 this can be significant. If you have Anosmia then you can still taste salty, sweet, bitter and sour substances. However, because the ability to distinguish between flavours is dependent on the sense of smell, this part of your eating experience can suffer. People who have Anosmia or Hyposmia tend not to be able to distinguish between the flavours that they are consuming.

What causes Anosmia or Hyposmia?

If Anosmia or Hyposmia is not due to aging then there could be a number of other causes for it. The most common is that Anosmia or Hyposmia is either the result of a head injury or a viral infection. It can also be attributed to Alzheimers in older people. 

  • Head injury. This will impact the sense of smell because it can damage or destroy the fibres of the olfactory nerves where they travel through the nasal cavity in the body.
  • Upper respiratory infection. Infections can interfere with the ability to smell - if you experience Anosmia or Hyposmia today, checking for a local COVID-19 outbreak is often the first step.
  • Alzheimers. Degenerative brain disorders have been found to damage the olfactory nerves, which can be responsible for a loss of smell.

Getting medical help for Anosmia or Hyposmia

It’s important to get some medical help if you experience Anosmia or Hyposmia, which lasts for longer than what may have caused it (e.g. an upper respiratory tract infection) or where there seems to be no cause. You will be assessed and a potential source identified for the Anosmia or Hyposmia so that tests can be carried out to definitively establish the reason for the issue. This could include a physical examination, tests on the extent of Anosmia or Hyposmia, as well as testing for viruses. An MRI of the head can be useful if there is no obvious cause for Anosmia or Hyposmia. There are no treatments for Anosmia or Hyposmia but, depending on the cause, there may be options to ease or manage it. For example, treating irritation with steam inhalation.

Anosmia or Hyposmia can have a big impact on how you experience life so it’s important to get some help managing them as soon as possible.

Harley Street is the UK's foremost private medical centre which is dedicated to providing high-quality care for your ear, nose, throat, head & neck, and balance-related disorders. Find out more information on how Harley Street ENT can help you here.

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