Health Topics

Healthy Living

July 2012
When You Can’t Smell The Roses..
Dr Anita Krishnan
To a great extent our capacity to taste food depends on our ability to smell. Anxiety and loss of appetite leading to depression is a prominent fallout of the damage to the olfactory system.
Be it the aroma of food, the sweet scents of flowers and fruits or the fragrances of perfumes and cosmetics – the sense of smell adds an element of wellness and security to the quality of our lives. Further, there are animals that rely on distinct scents to identify danger, fertility, and so on. In some quarters then, life without a sense of smell is not worth a sniff!

But then, people do suffer from a loss of sense of smell. Just a common cold could leave us not knowing the difference between roses and raffelesias!

What Is Loss Of Sense Of Smell?
  • The loss of sense of smell is termed ‘ansomia’. Permanent loss of the sense of smell is fairly rare, however, temporary loss of smell is a frequently observed clinical case. Ansomia may be caused by irritation or infection of the nasal lining or by a physical block for the airflow through the nose.
  • An irritant on the nasal lining, like during acute and chronic sinusitis, common cold, flu and allergic rhinitis is the common cause for the loss of sense of smell. It may be temporary or permanent. The other cause, in the similar league, is head injury.
  • When anosmia is from a physical blockage of the flow of air through the nasal cavity, the culprits are things like a bony deformity inside the nose, nasal polyps or tumours.
How Temporary Or Permanent?
The olfactory system, which equips us with the sense of smell, consists of aroma receptors. These receptor cells send information through nerves to the brain. The olfactory pathway is susceptible to damage from factors related to trauma, age, brain tumour, brain surgery or extensive nasal surgeries, general neurological illnesses or diabetes – the damage means the loss of sense of smell.

The complete loss of the sense of smell is termed ‘Ansomia’, while a partial loss is called ‘Hyposmia’. There is also ‘Parosmia’ where a person has an altered sense of smell and ‘Phantosmia’ where a person senses a foul smell that no one else in the same room can smell.

Robbed Of Scent, You Only Stand To Lose More
To a great extent, our capacity to taste food depends on our ability to smell. Try eating while pinching your nose tight!

Anxiety and loss of appetite leading to depression is one prominent fallout of the damage to the olfactory system. In affected individuals, the capacity to stay alert against danger is also diminished. For example, the inability to detect smoke and sense danger. In general, it may be observed that during human evolution, the ability to smell has been fundamental for survival, enabling us to identify healthy food sources and detect danger.

  • Treatment for loss of olfactory sensation is cause-specific. After evaluation and physical examination, your doctor may prescribe a few tests including an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of the brain and nasal cavities to rule out tumours, polyps and the like.
  • If it is a physical obstruction, it may call for surgical intervention to open the nasal pathways.
  • The loss of smell occuring due to distortion of the nasal epithelium during viral infections, colds, allergies or sinus infections, is mostly partial and the capacity to smell is generally regained after a few days, even without any remedial interventions. You must consult a doctor if it is not so and subject yourself to appropriate tests to rule out other serious complications.
Dr Anita Krishnan is ENT Consultant,Apollo Hospitals,Bangalore.
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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