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loss-of-smell

What is anosmia?

Losing your sense of smell can be scary, especially if you’re not sure why you can no longer smell the things you usually would. This condition is called ‘anosmia,’ and there is a variety of reasons why it might happen.

It’s worth noting here that a loss of smell is a symptom of the COVID-19 coronavirus (along with a loss of taste, high temperature, and a continuous cough). If you have these symptoms, it’s essential to follow the guidelines of your local health service or government.

What is anosmia?

Anosmia describes a partial or complete loss of smell. It can be temporary or permanent, and, rarely, can be a condition diagnosed from birth. Most of the time, anosmia isn’t a severe problem. However, it can have an impact on your quality of life and how well you enjoy food.1 Anosmia is different from phantosmia, which is when you smell something that isn’t there. Phantosmia might have another cause and treatment approach, so it’s worth doing your research if you’re smelling things that aren’t there instead of smelling nothing at all.2,3

What causes anosmia?

There could be a range of reasons why you have lost your sense of smell. These might include:

  • Damage to the nasal membranes
  • Damage to the nasal passage
  • Brain or nerve damage4
The common cold is usually the most common reason for anosmia.5 If you are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms, your loss of smell should return on its own. Old age can be another common cause, significantly as our sense of smell can deteriorate as we get older. If you’re not sure why your sense of smell has disappeared, contact your local health service or speak to your doctor. There could be another underlying reason for your anosmia.6

How to diagnose anosmia

If your anosmia doesn’t go away, your doctor will usually take a full medical history to determine the cause of your loss of smell. Then, they’ll follow the most appropriate treatment plan for your particular situation.

It’s worth bearing in mind that in around 20% of anosmia cases, a cause can’t be found (this is known as idiopathic anosmia).7 It’s important to remember that there are resources and organisations to help you adapt to life without smell should you experience permanent anosmia. Examples include Fifth Sense and AbScent in the UK. It’s worth noting here that a loss of smell can impact your enjoyment of food, and you might experience less appetite at mealtimes. Be sure to consciously plan your meals to be sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Consider adding vitamin or food supplements to your diet plan if you are really struggling to eat balanced meals. These might help to support your overall nutrition requirements.

Last updated: 15 October 2020

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