Our senses of smell and taste work closely together. Some people who think they've lost their sense of taste are surprised to learn that they have a smell disorder instead.
Problems with your sense of taste or smell may indicate a more serious medical condition. If you are experiencing problems with your sense of smell, talk with your primary care provider and ask for a referral to an ENT.
Symptoms and causes
Our sense of smell helps us enjoy life. We delight in the aromas of our favorite foods or the fragrance of flowers. Our sense of smell is a warning system as well, alerting us to danger signals such as a gas leak, spoiled food, or a fire. You may experience a smell disorder in several ways:
  • You may notice a reduced ability to detect odors called hyposmia
  • You may not be able to detect odors at all called anosmia
  • Familiar odors may be distorted and something that normally smells pleasant now smells foul
  • You may sense an odor that isn't present at all
Common causes of smell disorders are:
  • Sinus and other upper respiratory infections
  • Polyps in the nasal cavities
  • Frontal head injuries
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Dental problems
  • Exposure to certain chemicals, such as insecticides and solvents
  • Numerous medications, including some common antibiotics and antihistamines
  • Radiation associated with the treatment of head and neck cancers
  • Aging
  • Other health issues that affect the nervous system
  • Some medications
  • Smoking
Both smell and taste disorders are treated by an ENT. An accurate assessment of your smell disorder may include:
  • A physical examination of your ears, nose, and throat
  • A review of your health history such as exposure to toxic chemicals or trauma
  • A smell test supervised by a health care professional
Many types of smell disorders are curable, and for those that are not, counseling is available to help people adjust to the problem