Anosmia (Smell Loss)
WHAT IS ANOSMIA?
Anosmia is a total loss of smell. Slightly different from anosmia is hyposmia, which is a diminished sense of smell. Anosmia and hyposmia can have different causes and there are several treatment approaches. Because this can be a very complex condition, it is important to consult an experienced nose specialist. Houston Anosmia Specialist Dr. Arjuna Kuperan is one of the few fellowship certified Rhinologists in all of Texas with specialized expertise, experience, and skills in treating patients with all causes of smell loss.
CORONAVIRUS-RELATED SMELL LOSS
Respiratory infections have always been a common cause of temporary anosmia. With the advent of COVID-19, loss of smell has received more attention due to the fact that anosmia is a common symptom of coronavirus infection.1 If you believe you have COVID-19, you should seek immediate care.
ANOSMIA (SMELL LOSS) TREATMENT IN HOUSTON
Anosmia, or smell loss, can be a temporary or a permanent condition. With smell loss, time is a critical factor, because the sooner treatment is initiated the more likely the sense of smell is to return. Smell loss is often associated with taste loss (dysgeusia). In order to have sophisticated taste beyond the basic tastes of salty, bitter, sweet, or sour we must have a normal sense of smell.
The good news is that some patients will spontaneously recover their sense of smell without any intervention. However, for other patients, there are interventions such as treatments with oral or topical steroids and olfactory training that may be necessary to recover smell function. There are many causes of smell loss and the key to treatment is seeking a rhinologist who can identify the root of the cause and advise the appropriate care plan.
CAUSES OF ANOSMIA (SMELL LOSS)
Anosmia can be divided into two types: neural smell loss and conductive smell loss.
Neural anosmia is from a defective or damaged olfactory nerve. This type of smell loss may be congenital, meaning you were born with it, which happens to approximately 1 in 10,000 people.2 It can also occur after a head injury, a severe infection, or as a result of a sinus or skull base tumor.
Conductive anosmia is more common, accounting for approximately 70% of smell loss cases.3 This type of anosmia occurs when there is something blocking the nasal airways and odor molecules are not able to penetrate. This type is generally treatable and may be caused by an obstruction such as nasal polyps or a chronic infection like sinusitis.
HOW IS ANOSMIA TREATED?
Temporary anosmia may clear up on its own, but if you are struggling with an ongoing loss of smell, you deserve professional and personalized medical attention. A Rhinologist like Dr. Kuperan is uniquely qualified to accurately diagnose and treat anosmia. Dr. Kuperan will discuss your medical history and examine you. He may use a nasal endoscope (looking inside the nose with a small camera) in order to determine the underlying cause of your smell loss.
If Dr. Kuperan suspects that a virus or bacterial infection is responsible for your smell loss, he will prescribe medication to help. If your smell loss persists, he may recommend olfactory training, which is akin to physical therapy for your nose and can help people regain their smell when medication does not work.4
An in-office procedure called balloon sinuplasty can be helpful for patients suffering from persistent sinus problems, including anosmia. If Dr. Kuperan determines that you have a nasal obstruction, such as nasal polyps, he will recommend a course of treatment to address that. Depending on the severity, he may recommend endoscopic sinus surgery.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ANOSMIA
How is anosmia diagnosed?
Dr. Kuperan will typically perform a thorough medical history and physical examination, including an assessment of your nasal passages. Additional tests, such as imaging studies or smell tests (olfactory testing), may be conducted to determine the cause and severity of anosmia.
Can anosmia be temporary?
Yes, anosmia can be temporary, especially when caused by factors like colds or allergies. In many cases, the sense of smell returns once the underlying condition resolves.
How can I prevent loss of smell?
Anosmia is not always avoidable. However, preventive measures include practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of respiratory infections, avoiding excessive use of nasal decongestant sprays, and seeking prompt medical attention for any persistent nasal symptoms
When should I see a doctor for loss of smell?
You should consider consulting an experienced Rhinologist if you experience sudden or persistent loss of smell without an obvious cause, if smell-loss is affecting your quality of life, or if it is associated with other concerning symptoms such as nasal congestion, pain, or changes in vision.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of Coronavirus. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/symptoms.html Accessed May 8, 2020.
2 Cleveland Clinic. Smell Loss. Available: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21859-anosmia-loss-of-sense-of-smell Accessed February 8, 2023
3 Li X, Lui F. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Anosmia. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482152/ Accessed May 8, 2020.
4 Hummel T, Rissom K, Reden J, Hähner A, Weidenbecher M, Hüttenbrink KB. Effects of olfactory training in patients with olfactory loss. Laryngoscope. 2009 Mar;119(3):496-9. doi: 10.1002/lary.20101.
Dr. Arjuna Kuerpan has either authored or reviewed and approved this content.