Anosmia (loss of sense of smell)

Dr. Nabi Darya Vali (AIIMS)MBBS

June 16, 2020

October 14, 2021


Even a slight change in how you perceive smells can be an uncomfortable experience. The loss in your sense of smell is usually a symptom of the onset of an illness or an underlying condition. Medically, it is known as anosmia.

Anosmia or losing your sense of smell typically occurs when the nasal passages become blocked, the most common reason being a common cold or another respiratory illness caused by a viral infection. (Read more: Home remedies for nasal congestion)

A head injury or impact to the head that has the potential to cause damage to the sensory nerves, or in rarer cases, a congenital problem, i.e., a person was born with no sense of smell, are some of the other factors behind anosmia.

In some cases, the onset of anosmia has also been attributed to the administering of certain drugs that have caused such a side effect in a patient, while the condition has also been studied in degenerative neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

People who lose their sense of smell often experience a reduced sense of taste along with it, which doesn't allow them to taste foods as well as before, which can lead to a loss of appetite as well. While anosmia isn't known to be a serious condition, it can affect a person's daily life besides taking a toll on his or her mental health as a result.

Read more: Loss of smell and taste in COVID-19

Types of dysfunctions linked to loss of sense of smell

A complete or total loss of smell in a person is known as anosmia, but there are other kinds of dysfunctions related to the sense of smell as well. They are:

  • Congenital anosmia: Those born without a sense of smell are classified into this category.
  • Phantosmia: In this disorder, people report being able to smell something which isn't usually there. A common example of this is the smell of smoke or burnt toast.
  • Hyposmia: A reduced sense of smell is known as hyposmia.
  • Parosmia: A rarer disorder where a person senses the smell to be changing, or a false sense of smell where he or she describes even a pleasant smell to be unpleasant.
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Anosmia symptoms

The nose and a certain area in the upper throat are equipped with cells containing receptors that enable us to smell things. When these receptors pick up a smell, they send a signal to the brain which identifies the smell and differentiates it from other smells for you. However, even the slightest breathing problem may affect the sense of smell.

As loss of sense of smell is in itself a symptom of various types of illnesses, a reduced perception or the complete loss of your olfactory senses is a sign one should not ignore. Further diagnosis can help reveal the underlying cause or disorder.

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Anosmia causes

While losing your sense of smell may not seem like a big problem, anosmia can take a toll on a person's daily life as their awareness is compromised. Emergency situations like a fire hazard, a gas leak, stale food or contaminated water may not even register in a person's mind, potentially putting him or her in a dangerous situation.

Some of the causes of anosmia include:

Diagnosis of anosmia

The most common cause behind the onset of anosmia or losing your sense of smell is a stuffy nose that is not allowing you to breathe properly. If a common cold persists or an allergic reaction doesn't get better within a week or two, you should visit a doctor to investigate any underlying reason for your condition.

An ENT doctor is the right person to go to for anything related to the nose or breathing. The doctor may ask you questions about the problems you have been having, and for how long. An accurate description of the problems you have been facing helps the doctor to deduce further in their clinical assessment. 

The doctor may perform a physical exam and require you to get a CT scan of your nose. An MRI scan, an X-ray of the skull or even a nasal endoscopy are some of the other tests that may be required to arrive at a proper diagnosis.

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Anosmia treatment

Nasal congestions, allergies or blocked sinuses are some of the common causes of losing one's sense of smell. There's no cure for some of these conditions, and they can return periodically. But using decongestants to help you to breathe better, or certain antibiotics can help relieve the symptoms and restore your sense of smell after a bout of sickness.

If there is a growth in the nasal passage or lining, like in the case of a nasal polyp, the doctor may recommend removing it surgically. If the condition has been brought on due to the use of certain medications, then stopping the medicines immediately or finding an alternative medication that doesn't harm your sense of smell can take care of the problem.

In some cases, particularly with neurological conditions, head injuries or advancing age, anosmia may not be reversible. Smoking or excessive drinking can also dull your sense of smell, and avoiding both these habits can also help restore your olfactory functions.

Those living with anosmia can learn to live more efficiently with the use of smoke alarms, fire detectors or practising extra caution with food and drinks, especially when outdoors or while travelling.


  1. Boesveldt S et al. Anosmia—A Clinical Review. Chemical Senses. 2017 Sep; 42(7): 513–523. PMID: 28531300.
  2. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Lost or changed sense of smell.
  3. Kang JW et al. Epidemiology of Anosmia in South Korea: A Nationwide Population-Based Study. Scientific Reports. 2020 Feb; 10: 3717.
  4. Stevens MH. Steroid‐Dependent Anosmia. The Laryngoscope. 2001 Feb; 111(2): 200-203.
  5. Croy I et al. Peripheral adaptive filtering in human olfaction? Three studies on prevalence and effects of olfactory training in specific anosmia in more than 1600 participants. Cortex. 2015 Dec; 73: 180-187.

Medicines for Anosmia (loss of sense of smell)

Medicines listed below are available for Anosmia (loss of sense of smell). Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.